Twin panda cubs made their first public appearance in front of adoring admirers in Tokyo on Wednesday, but only for three days owing to an increase in COVID-19 instances caused by the omicron variant.
The twins, Xiao Xiao, a male cub, and his sister, Lei Lei, who were born in June at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo, took their first steps while happy spectators held out their iPhones to record the adorable duo as they played together.
The twin cubs sat back to back on a branch, playing with bamboo, in a video published by the zoo on Wednesday, with spectators shouting “kawaii (cute)!” in the background. The male cub then takes a stride up the tree by stepping on its sibling.
The twins, who were born as palm-sized pink animals, now each weigh as much as a toddler and have acquired black-and-white fur. According to the zoo, they like climbing trees and playing together on the wood chips on the ground.
The twins and their mother were placed in a shared living area in preparation for their debut, where they were exposed to noises from a radio to become acclimated to noise and voices from guests.
The zoo has been closed since Tuesday due to the fast spread of the highly transmissible omicron strain across Japan. The zoo is only accessible for the twin panda display until Friday, with 1,080 people per day allowed entrance through a tough lottery.
Six-person groups were allowed into the panda quarters, where they may stay for one minute. The public viewing session in the morning is restricted to two hours.
The unusual creatures can only be found in China’s Sichuan region, where they reside in bamboo-covered slopes.
For decades, China has used “panda diplomacy” to loan its unofficial national symbol. All pandas, including those born outside of China, must be repatriated to China at some point.
Xiang Xiang, the twin cubs’ older sister, was born in the Ueno Zoo in 2017 and will be returned to China in June.
In China, there are around 1,800 pandas in the wild and about 500 in captivity in zoos and reserves, the bulk of which are found within the nation.