Giant pandas may be a common sight in popular culture and are an important symbol for China, but the Asian bear species is quite endangered in the wild. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) are listed as endangered. In fact, the group notes, "there seems to be little doubt that there are less than 2,500 mature giant pandas in the wild."
Earlier this month, Japan was mourning the death of the first panda born at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo in 24 years. The unnamed male cub, born to mother Shin Shin, died of pneumonia after living only six days.
With naturally low birthrates, panda breeding has become important to zookeepers and panda researchers. Earlier this year, officials at Scotland's Edinburgh Zoo created a "love tunnel" between the enclosures of male Yang Guang and female Tian Tian to encourage mating, reported AP. The first pandas in Britain in almost two decades, officials hoped the two would mate during a narrow window of fertility.
In April, officials at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C. decided to artificially inseminate panda Mei Xiang, reported LiveScience. Zoo officials said in statement, "Veterinarians performed an artificial insemination ... after they determined no competent natural breeding had occurred between Mei Xiang and male giant panda, Tian Tian."
Find some of our favorite photos of giant pandas below, both young and old.