Japan: Tokyo zoo's long-awaited baby panda dies of pneumonia

The director of Ueno Zoo, Toshimitsu Doi, cries as he announces the death of the zoo's newborn baby panda, on July 11, 2012.
Credit: Jiji Press

Japan's beloved baby panda is dead, Tokyo zookeepers have announced.

The male cub was found lying motionless on his mother's stomach, the Asahi Shimbun reported. Despite attempts to resuscitate him, he was confirmed dead at 8.30 a.m.

He was just six days old.

More from GlobalPost: Panda born in Tokyo zoo after 24 years

According to Ueno Zoo officials, the cub had only just returned to his mother, Shin Shin, after three days in an incubator. He was placed there after Shin Shin, a first-time mother, stopped carrying him and left him on the floor of their cage overnight.

Everything appeared to be going well yesterday, however. The Mainichi reported that Shin Shin had taken notice of the cub's cries and resumed breast-feeding, giving keepers hope that she would be able to raise him herself.

Tragically, keepers believe being breast-fed may ultimately have led to his death: traces of milk were found inside his bronchial tube, according to the Associated Press, suggesting that he accidentally inhaled some milk and subsequently suffered pneumonia.

"We are very disappointed," the zoo's director, Toshimitsu Doi, told a press conference. According to Agence France Presse, he had to break off to wipe tears from his eyes.

The cub's death comes as a disappointment not just to Ueno Zoo – which had not had a panda baby before now in 24 years – but the whole of Japan. 

Following the cub's birth on July 5, panda mania swept the animal-loving nation, AFP said, with nightly updates on news shows and a rash of panda-themed products and tie-ins. The Wall Street Journal described the event as "what might be the most celebrated birth in Japan since the last prince was born in 2006."

Such was the Japanese public's excitement about the cub that even Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda made a statement on its death. 

It's "very disappointing," AFP quoted him as saying. "We were all looking forward [to seeing it grow up.]"

Here's a video from The Telegraph of some of the cub's earliest moments:

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