ANIMALS

Chinese panda breeding center allows visitors to hug baby panda

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(CNN) - It isn't often that baby pandas - even when there are 14 of them - get upstaged in the realm of cuteness.

15-month-old Miao Miao can be hugged by visitors for a donation. Photo: CNN

However, that's exactly what has happened at the Panda Breeding Research center in Chengdu, China, and what more, they're letting people hug a baby bear.

Conservation groups like the World Wildlife Fund call China's effort to save the giant panda from extinction a success story. With breakthroughs in artificial insemination and the use of incubators, experts have gotten much better at breeding and raising pandas.

Meanwhile, the breeding center in Chengdu has become a panda theme park, attracting more than 1 million visitors per year. Visitors travel in panda wagons and go home loaded with panda hats and earmuffs.

What more, for a donation, visitors get to sit next to 15-month-old Miao Miao, and give her a great big panda hug. That's because at this center, the normally solitary creatures have gotten accustomed to close human contact.

No one is getting that close to Bao Bao, the baby panda at Smithsonian's National Zoo, who continues to get ready for her public debut.

The next big challenge, experts say, is learning how to introduce captive pandas back into the wild.

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