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Giant baby panda impresses

A baby panda made a special appearance Monday before Tokyo's governor, a group of local schoolchildren and the media one day ahead of its official public debut, and quickly captured their hearts.

Xiang Xiang, a 6-month-old female giant panda, will debut Tuesday in a limited public viewing for avid fans who obtained tickets through a highly competitive lottery process.

Xiang Xiang, or Fragrance in Chinese, was born June 12 to a resident panda at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo and now weighs more than 12 kilograms (26 pounds).

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike smiled as she came out of the zoo's panda house, telling reporters that the baby panda was "just adorable."

"She climbed a tree and even showed us her cute little back," Koike said. "I was very anxious to see how she could come down."

Clinging to the tree trunk with her tiny sharp claws, Xiang Xiang slowly came down to the ground. She then played with a bamboo branch, putting it to her mouth, though she is still being breast-fed by her mother and won't be able to eat solid food for another month or two.

Xiang Xiang then fell sound asleep, joined by her mother at her side.

The zoo's deputy director, Hirofumi Watabe, said the panda keepers have worked hard to ensure the baby panda's safety and health, and he was delighted to see her steady growth.

Since October, dozens of zoo keepers and officials have participated in Xiang Xiang's training so she will become used to the presence of people around her compartment.

Koike said she hopes children who come to see Xiang Xiang will learn lessons about life.

Zoo officials said Xiang Xiang's public appearances will be limited to 2 1/2 hours a day for the time being to minimize stress.

Luka Niitsu, a fifth grader who was invited to Monday's event from nearby Shinobugaoka Elementary School, was able to see Xiang Xiang in action before it went to sleep.

"It was so cute following its mother around," she said. "I want to come back and see them again."



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