TOKYO (AP) – Twin panda cubs appeared on Wednesday for the first time for devoted fans in Tokyo, but only briefly for now – only for three days – due to an increase in COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant.
The twins, male pup Xiao Xiao and its sister Lei Lei, who was born in Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo in June, took their first steps as brilliant fans held up their smartphones to film the adorable couple while playing together.
In a video released by the zoo on Wednesday, the twin cubs sit back to back on a tree, playing with bamboo, while visitors can be heard saying “kawaii (cute)!” in the background. Then the rooster steps on his sister to move up the tree.
The twins, who were palm-sized pink creatures when they were born, now weigh as much as a toddler each and have developed black-and-white fur. They enjoy climbing trees and playing together on the tiles on the ground, according to the zoo.
In preparation for their debut, the twins and their mother were placed in a common living room, where they were exposed to sounds from a radio to get used to the noise and voices of visitors.
The zoo has been closed since Tuesday, when the highly portable omicron variant spread rapidly across Japan. The zoo is only open for the twin panda exhibition until Friday, when 1,080 visitors who won slots in a competitive lottery have gained access every day.
Groups of six people were allowed to enter the panda neighborhood where they could stay for a minute. The public viewing period is limited to two hours in the morning.
The rare animals live mainly in the bamboo-covered mountains of China’s Sichuan area.
China has for decades borrowed its unofficial national mascot in what is known as “panda diplomacy”. All pandas, including those born abroad, must eventually be returned to China.
The twins’ big sister, Xiang Xiang, born at Ueno Zoo in 2017, is due to be sent back to China in June.
There are about 1,800 pandas living in the wild in China and about 500 others in captivity in zoos and reserves, the majority in the country.