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Thousands celebrate Yuan Zai's 1st birthday

TAIPEI -- Thousands braved the summer heat Sunday to celebrate the first birthday of Yuan Zai, the first giant panda cub born in Taiwan, who has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors in six months.

Around 3,000 people joined a 10-kilometre (6.2-mile) run which was part of a series of programs marking the birthday.

Visitors, many of them children with parents, cheered Yuan Zai when she was presented with a birthday cake — made of apples, pineapples, carrots and buns and prepared by the zookeepers.

Yuan Zai, the first giant panda born in Taiwan, celebrated her first birthday Sunday with a giant fruit cake and a traditional game for figuring out what she will do when she grows up.

In the six months to June 2.4 million people visited the zoo, about a 50 percent rise over the same period of 2013.

The 34-kilogram cub was taken to her “birthday party” in the morning, where zookeepers showed her to several bamboo branches decorated with signs reading different professions, a unique take on the common practice called “zhua zhou.”

In a zhua zhou event, a one-year-old child chooses from different items symbolizing various professions — like a ruler for an architect or a calligraphy brush for an author — so that their parents get an idea of what their children are interested in.

Yuan Zai's picks on Sunday showed a broad range of interests for the cub: painter, engineer, flight attendant and teacher.

She was then treated to a giant icy cake made of natural ingredients, including beetroots, apples, pineapples and carrots.

She weighed 180 grams (6.35 ounces) at birth but now tips the scales at around 34 kilograms. In her first year of life, Yuan Zai has grown to 185 times her birth weight. She is in good health and is ready to take adult food, according to the zoo.

Yuan Zai was born after four years of artificial insemination attempts using sperm from the only other two giant pandas at the zoo, Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan.

The pair of giant pandas was given to Taiwan four years ago by China to symbolize warming ties between the two sides.

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Giant panda Yuan Zai slips while participating in a “zhua zhou” event modeled after a Chinese birthday celebration tradition in Taipei Zoo, yesterday. In zhua zhou, a one-year-old child picks one of a variety of items symbolizing various professions placed in front of them to tip off their parents about their interests. (CNA)

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