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Page last updated at 07:58 GMT, Thursday, 28 May 2009 08:58 UK

Thais cheer surprise panda birth

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Panda Lin Hui gives birth to her cub.

A healthy panda cub has been born at a zoo in northern Thailand, surprising carers who said the eight-year-old mother had shown no signs of pregnancy.

Lin Hui gave birth just three months after being artificially inseminated with sperm from partner Chuang Chuang.

The giant pandas, on loan from China since 2003, had shown no interest in mating at their home in Chiang Mai.

Pornography and diets failed, but artificial insemination has finally succeeded for the couple.

Giant pandas, notorious for their low sex drive, are among the world's most endangered animals.

Nearly 1,600 pandas are believed to survive in the wild in China and about 180 are being raised in captivity in zoos worldwide.

Breeding in captivity

Officials at Chiang Mai zoo said before the birth Lin Hui did not want to get close to caretakers or any other people, so they were not aware she was in labour.

The zoo's director-general, Sophon Damnui, said the cub appeared to be healthy. "We are thrilled at the success," he said.

In 2006, Chuang Chuang, who was deemed too heavy to mate with Lin Hui, lost 7kg (15lb) on a diet. He was then shown video clips of successful panda couplings - but this did little to inspire.

Lin Hui was first artificially inseminated in April 2007 but that attempt failed.

The new cub will officially belong to China but zoo officials said it would be raised in Thailand for about 24 months.

A team of Chinese panda experts are expected in Thailand to advise on raising the cub.

Thailand is only one of a handful of countries to breed a panda in captivity outside China.



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