Japan's oldest zoo was one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country before closing for five months due to the pandemic. Shortly after reopening, it's suddenly even more attractive. In a surprise, a giant panda at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo gave birth to twins early Wednesday. Officials suspected 15-year-old mother Shin Shin was pregnant—news that caused stocks of eateries around the zoo to spike—but they hadn’t expected her to birth twins, the first set ever to be born at the zoo, which opened in 1882. "When the first one was born, I was relieved," zoo director Yutaka Fukuda says, per the New York Times. "When I received a report about the second one, I was shocked and extremely happy." Only five other pandas have been born at the zoo, including triplets conceived through artificial insemination in the 1980s, but one of the triplets and another cub died within days.
Shin Shin mated with Ri Ri, a 15-year-old male who arrived with her at the zoo a decade ago. It was the first successful mating since the birth of their daughter Xiang Xiang in 2017, five years after Shin Shin lost a cub to pneumonia. Pandas generally raise one offspring so the twins, of unknown sex, present a bit of a problem. Zoo rep Naoya Ohashi says Shin Shin will be allowed to feed one of the cubs, with occasional swaps. The mother "is in good health and carefully looking after" one cub, while the other, weighing in at about four and a half ounces, spends time in an incubator, per the Japan Times. Like all panda cubs, the twins are considered property of China, which loans out its pandas. Shin Shin and Ri Ri are to stay at Ueno for another five years, while 4-year-old Xiang Xiang is to be sent to China by the year's end. (Read more giant pandas stories.)