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Blooming lovely! Japan zoo names baby panda after fragrant flowers

© TOKYO ZOOLOGICAL PARK SOCIETY/AFP/File | When Xiang Xiang the cub was born, she could fit in a human hand

TOKYO (AFP) - 

A panda cub born in a Japanese zoo three months ago has been christened "Xiang Xiang" to evoke the image of a blooming flower, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike said Monday.

After showing a video clip of the baby panda being hugged by proud mum Shin Shin, Koike explained that the name Xiang Xiang -- derived from the Chinese character for "fragrance" -- was chosen from among more than 320,000 suggestions from the public.

The naming of Xiang Xiang threatened to overshadow strong speculation that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would call a snap election. It provided welcome light relief after weeks of tension over North Korean nuclear tests and missile launches.

Shin Shin gave birth at Tokyo's Ueno zoo on June 12, when Xiang Xiang weighed a fragile 100 grams and was tiny enough to fit into a human palm.

Shin Shin, who mated with Ri Ri in February, had previously given birth in 2012 ?- the zoo's first panda delivery in 24 years -- only for the cub to die from pneumonia six days later.

Zookeepers have since given the pandas some private space in a bid to create an environment for the bashful creatures to mate successfully -- a notoriously difficult process.

Until recently considered an endangered species, it is estimated that around 2,000 giant pandas remain in the wild, in three provinces in central China.

© 2017 AFP