Giant Pandas: Record number of cubs born in 2010
The number of Giant Pandas in captivity in China has risen to more than 300 thanks to a successful breeding programme that scientists believe will save the species from extinction, according to Sky News.
Scientists at the country's two main research centres this year set a new record of 19 cubs born with the help of artificial insemination, the broadcaster said.
After years of unsuccessful attempts at encouraging pandas to breed in captivity - including dosing males with Viagra - the artificial insemination programme has pushed the captive panda population above the scientists' goal of 300, Sky reported.
Millions of sperm samples are being kept at 200 degrees below zero in flasks of nitrous oxide at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in Sichuan Province.
The pandas have become local celebrities and visitors flock to the research centre to see them playing in their outdoor enclosure.
Tourists can even pay more than US$150 to "hug a panda", which earns thousands of dollars every day for the government, Sky reported.
There are just 1,600 Giant Pandas left in the wild, living in 40 government panda reserves.
Despite the recent baby boom, it is unlikely that any of the cubs will be released into the wild any time soon, researchers said.
Professor Liu Yuliang of the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base said introducing captive pandas to their natural habitat will be even more difficult than encouraging them to breed.
Pandas in captivity do not know how to feed themselves or how to behave like wild animals, he said.
"There hasn't been a single successful example yet, we don't even have any experience to build on," he added.
The only previous attempt at releasing a captive panda ended in tragedy when it was beaten to death by other pandas in 2006, Sky reported.