Reuters International

By Ines Kagubare

BRUGELETTE, Belgium (Reuters) - A giant panda has given birth in a Belgian zoo, a rare event for an endangered species that numbers fewer than 2,000 worldwide.

The male cub was born overnight at the Paira Daiza wildlife park to six-year-old Hao Hao and her mate Xing Hui, officials from the zoo told a news conference.

Photographs showed the pink, blind, hairless cub, just a few inches long, being held in its mother's jaws. Her "probable" pregnancy was announced just two weeks ago, accompanied by caution about detecting the tiny foetus.

The zoo cooperated with experts from the animals' native China to treat the mother by artificial insemination.

World nature organisation WWF says a survey in 2014 found only 1,864 giant pandas living in the wild, almost double the numbers in the late 1970s and 17 percent up in a decade.

As part of efforts to save the species, which has been hit hard by human encroachment on the highlands where they survive almost entirely on a diet of bamboo, more than 300 pandas now live in zoos, mostly in China.

They notoriously struggle to reproduce in captivity, however -- though artificial breeding techniques and better knowledge of their needs has seen an increase in births in recent years.

Pairi Daiza said Belgium had become the third country in Europe to see the successful reproduction of pandas after Austria and Spain. The last successful birth in Europe was at Madrid three years ago.

(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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 Reuters International