There aren’t many giant pandas left: only 1,684 to be exact, around 300 of which are kept in captivity. But their numbers continue to dwindle in part because it’s difficult for pandas to reproduce in captivity. Why? No one really knows; the pandas just seem to lose their sexual appetite.
So it was surprising when, earlier this week, a panda named Hao Hao in captivity in Belgium did give birth, according to the BBC. Hao Hao’s son was born hairless and blind, and his mother could often be seen picking it up in her jaws, to both clean and protect the cub.
Hao Hao lives at a zoo outside Brussels with her panda partner, a male named Xing Hui. Handlers had artificially inseminated Hao Hao months ago with Xing Hui’s semen, but it was only in recent weeks that they realized that Hao Hao may actually be pregnant.
The mortality rate for newborn pandas is extremely high in their first year, so zoo officials say the hard work is far from over. Still, the unnamed cub’s birth, called a “true miracle,” was something to celebrate; he’s only the third panda cub ever born in Europe.
Make that 1,685 pandas.