For the first time, a giant panda cub has been born in China after being conceived using frozen sperm, officials announced on Friday — an innovation that scientists hope will help the endangered species avoid extinction.
The new cub’s birth on Thursday means that breeders will no longer be forced to rely on semen from China’s few virile males, and may even be able to bring in sperm from zoos in San Diego, Mexico City or elsewhere.
This would be key to promoting a healthy panda population because inbreeding can lead to birth defects that would further threaten the survival of the species.
The new cub, born to You You, a female panda at the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center in Sichuan Province, is the 10th born at the breeding facility this year. It was You You’s third.
Just after dawn, on footage broadcast by state television channel CCTV, the pinkish, hairless cub emerged, and its mother was shown licking the tiny wiggling creature to clean it.
Panda researchers said on Friday that it was the first successful live birth worldwide using frozen panda sperm.
“We did try before but it failed,” said Huang Yan, a deputy research technician with the China Panda Preservation Research Center.
He declined to elaborate but said the Wolong team had improved its thawing techniques, making frozen sperm more viable.
Sperm samples are deep-frozen using liquid nitrogen, and in the past, only 20 percent to 30 percent of the sperm survived. But this time the center managed to raise viability to about 80 percent, he said.