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Thousands celebrate birthday of first Taiwan-born panda cub

Thousands braved the summer heat Sunday to celebrate the first birthday of Yuan Zai, the first giant panda cub born in Taiwan, who has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors in six months.

TAIPEI: Thousands braved the summer heat Sunday to celebrate the first birthday of Yuan Zai, the first giant panda cub born in Taiwan, who has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors in six months.

Around 3,000 people joined a 10-kilometre (6.2-mile) run which was part of a series of programmes marking the birthday.

Visitors, many of them children with parents, cheered Yuan Zai when she was presented with a birthday cake -- made of apples, pineapples, carrots and buns and prepared by the zookeepers.

The main attraction was when the cub grabbed different cards in "Zhua Zhou", a traditional crawling game for one-year-old babies in many Chinese communities.

The first card or object to be grabbed indicates a future career path or interest, according to custom.

Yuan Zai initially picked up the card for painter, among a variety of others.

The cub made her public debut in January and since then the exhibition centre at Taipei Zoo has often been swamped with fans.

In the six months to June 2.4 million people visited the zoo, about a 50 per cent rise over the same period of 2013.

Yuan Zai was delivered on July 6 last year following a series of artificial insemination sessions because her parents -- Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan -- failed to conceive naturally.

She weighed 180 grams (6.35 ounces) at birth but now tips the scales at around 34 kilograms.

Mother and daughter were reunited for the first time on August 13, a meeting that saw the giant panda licking and cuddling her baby before they fell asleep together inside a cage.

Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, whose names mean "reunion" in Chinese, were given to Taiwan by China in December 2008 and have become star attractions at Taipei Zoo, as well as a symbol of warming ties between the former bitter rivals.

Fewer than 1,600 pandas remain in the wild, mainly in China's Sichuan province, with a further 300 in captivity around the world.

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