Twin panda cubs make their debut at Tokyo Zoo, attracting loyal fans

Twin panda cubs make their first public appearance in front of loyal fans in Tokyo, but are only briefly — just three days — due to a surge in COVID-19 cases due to a highly transmissible variant of the omicron

TOKYO — The twin panda cubs made their first public appearance on Wednesday in front of loyal fans in Tokyo, but there has been only a brief — just three days — of a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant.

The twins, male cub Xiao Xiao and his sister Lei Lei, who were born at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo in June, took their first steps as beaming fans raised their smartphones to photograph the adorable pair as they played together couple.

In a video released by the zoo on Wednesday, the twin cubs sit back-to-back in a tree and play with bamboo while visitors can be heard in the background saying “kawaii (cute)!” before the male steps on his sister Move up the tree.

Born as palm-sized pink creatures, the twins are now each the weight of a toddler and have grown black and white fur. According to the zoo, they like to climb trees and play with sawdust on the ground together.

In preparation for their debut, the twins and their mother were placed in a shared living area, where they had access to the sound of the radio to accommodate the noise and sounds from tourists.

The zoo has been closed since Tuesday due to the rapid spread of a highly transmissible variant of omicron in Japan. The zoo is open only to the twin panda exhibit until Friday, and 1,080 visitors each day win a competitive lottery.

Groups of six are allowed into the panda dormitory, where they can stay for one minute. Public viewing is limited to two hours in the morning.

Rare animals mainly live in the bamboo forest mountains in Sichuan, China.

For decades, China has borrowed its unofficial national mascot in so-called “panda diplomacy.” All giant pandas, including those born abroad, must eventually return to China.

Twin sister Xiang Xiang, who was born at Ueno Zoo in 2017, will be sent back to China in June.

There are about 1,800 giant pandas in the wild in China, and about 500 in captivity in zoos and reserves, most of which are in China.