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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 November 2005, 10:49 GMT
China reports panda breeding boon
 Giant panda cubs sleep at the China Wolong Giant Panda Protection and Research Centre on October 19, 2005 in Wolong of Sichuan Province, China.
Sixteen of the cubs were born at the Wolong reserve in Chengdu
China's breeding programme for the threatened giant panda has had its most successful year, with 25 cubs born through artificial insemination.

State media said that although four of the 25 had died, the figures compared well with previous years.

"It's undoubtedly a boon to the critically-endangered species," said Zhang Zhihe, director of the Giant Panda Breeding Technology Committee.

Getting pandas to breed in captivity has proved notoriously difficult.

Thirty-eight giant pandas were artificially impregnated in the Spring, and 25 pandas were born in the autumn, said Mr Zhang.

"We owe this achievement to Chinese scientists. They have acquired mature technologies and valuable experience after years of hard work."

Artificial insemination led to the births of nine baby pandas in 2000, 12 in 2001, 10 in 2002, 15 in 2003, and 12 last year, not all of which survived.

"Female pandas are extremely picky about their Mr. Right," said Mr Zhang. "So we raise panda cubs in pairs hoping puppy love will create soul mate couples."

There are only an estimated 1,600 wild pandas left in China's central forests, and some 160 in captivity.

Pandas rarely breed in captivity, and have been shown sex education videos to encourage them to do so.

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