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Panda cub dies three days after birth

A panda cub has died three days after its celebrated birth following a rare success in artificial insemination, a Japanese zoo said today.

The baby giant panda, which had not yet been named, was pronounced dead Friday of an unknown cause, the Oji Kobe Zoo said on its website.

"Zoo officials and vets were monitoring it around the clock, but we had to face an unfortunate outcome," the zoo said.

The cub's 12-year-old mother, Dan Dan, was the first giant panda since 1988 to conceive through artificial insemination in Japan. The captive breeding is part of a joint research project between Japan and China.

The zoo, in the western city of Kobe, said the cause of the death was under investigation. The sex of the cub had also not been determined.

Earlier breeding attempts and artificial insemination between Dan Dan and her mate, Xing Xing, were unsuccessful.

The giant panda is revered as a national symbol of China as well as of friendship between the two Asian neighbours. Dan Dan went to Japan from China in 2000.

Only about 1,600 pandas live in the wild, mostly in China's south-western Sichuan province, which was hit by an earthquake in May that killed nearly 70,000 people.