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France: Giant panda gives birth to twins

Female panda Huan Huan gave birth while on loan to France from China. The twins will have to wait 100 days before they get names — and when they do, they'll be chosen by someone very special.

the picture shows a close-up of a panda's white head and black eyes and claws, licking a tiny pink baby panda. The baby panda's eyes are still shut

Huan Huan cares for one of her infants shortly after giving birth

A giant panda on loan to a French zoo gave birth to twin cubs in the early hours of Monday morning.

The panda, named "Huan Huan", gave birth to the twins at around 1 a.m. (2300 UTC, Sunday) at Zoo-Parc de Beauval in Saint-Aignan, central France.

"The two babies are pink. They are perfectly healthy. They look big enough. They are magnificent," said Rodolphe Delord, the zoo's president.

They are Huan Huan and her partner Yuan Zi's third cubs after they produced the first panda ever born in France, Yuan Meng, in 2017.

Panda reproduction notoriously difficult

The cubs are particularly welcome as panda reproduction, in captivity or in the wild, is notoriously difficult.

Experts say few pandas get in the mood for mating or even know what to do once they enter heat.

Additionally, the window for conception is small since female pandas are in heat only once a year for about 24-48 hours.

A human hand holds a tiny pink panda cub. It is pink with tiny white hairs covering its body

The panda cubs are born tiny and without their recognizable black-and-white fur

Zoo officials were therefore thrilled when Huan Huan and her partner Yuan Zi managed to make "contact" eight times in a weekend in March.

Veterinarians also carried out an artificial insemination, just to be sure.

Huan Huan's newborns will have to wait 100 days before being named.

Peng Liyuan — the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping — is set to choose what they will be called, according to the zoo.

A black and white panda carries a pink baby panda in her mouth which looks like she is eating it

Huan Huan carries a baby panda in her mouth after giving birth to twins

Panda diplomacy

China has a long history of leasing the iconic pandas to other countries in a bid to build diplomatic ties, dubbed "panda diplomacy."

Cubs born in foreign zoos are typically sent back to China.

Huan Huan's first cub, Yuan Meng, now weighs more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds).

The panda is set to be sent this year to China, where there are an estimated 1,800 giant pandas living in the wild and another 500 in captivity.

This report was written in part with material from news agency Agence France Presse.