Chinese scientists have cloned a pig hailed as a national hero after surviving for 36 days buried beneath rubble after the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province.
Zhu Jianqiang ("Strong-Willed Pig") reportedly survived in the debris by chewing charcoal and drinking rainwater, and was "as thin as a goat" when he was rescued, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported at the time.
The pig became a symbol for national resilience. More than 90,000 people died or went missing in the devastating 8.0 magnitude earthquake, which affected Sichuan and parts of neighboring Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.
Now there are six little "strong-willed" piglets, after the hero pig was cloned by researchers at a genetic institute in Shenzhen, southern China, Hong Kong's Sunday Morning Post reports.
The Beijing Genomics Institute last week announced the birth of the six piglets with DNA identical to that of their father, Zhu Jianqiang, the newspaper reports.
Dr. Du Yutao, leader of the cloning project, told the Post that the pig was a poor candidate for cloning: he had been castrated before the quake, had experienced serious trauma by being buried for 36 days, and was five years old — or about 60 in human terms.
"But the wonderful pig surprised us again," Du said.
The piglets reportedly look like their hero father, with a birthmark between their eyes, and displayed "markedly more strength and vigor than other young porkers."
But a Beijing-based biologist told the newspaper that it was unlikely the pig had special genes, and he was just a celebrity animal being used to promote cloning technology, the Post says.
In 2008, Zhu Jianqiang the hero pig topped an online poll of "10 animals that moved China" for his spirit of never giving up, China Daily reports.
But after the hero pig became famous, he was sold on to a museum curator and became notoriously fat and grumpy.
"It's gotten fatter and lazier by the day," a museum staff member said in late 2008. "In the first few months after it got here, 'Strong Pig' would still raise its head when reporters and visitors came to take photos."
The staff person added: "Now, it just blocks the door to its bedroom when there are too many visitors outside. It's been increasingly difficult for us to convince it to open the door."