A giant panda gave birth to twin cubs at Madrid zoo on Monday in what officials hailed was a "great contribution" to the conservation of the vulnerable species. Madrid's Zoo Aquarium said its female panda-Hua Zui Ba-gave birth to the first cub at around 8:30 am after more than four hours of labour, while the second followed just after midday.

Footage of the first one being born showed a tiny pink hairless cub squeaking furiously after emerging into the light, its mother gently cleaning it up and placing it onto her stomach. The newborns will be "totally dependent" on their mother for the first four months until they can walk on their own, a zoo statement said.

Two technicians from China's Chengdu panda breeding center will help local vets care for the pair, whose sex has not yet been determined, it added. The cubs are the fifth and sixth of Hua Zui Ba and her partner Bing Xing, it added. Their birth is "a great contribution to the field of conservation of threatened species," the zoo said. Female pandas often have two offspring at a time.

Panda reproduction-in captivity or in the wild-is notoriously difficult, experts say, as few of the animals get in the mood or, even when they do, they do not know how to mate. Further complicating matters, the window for conception is narrow since female pandas are in heat only once a year, for about one or two days. The giant panda is listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with fewer than 2,000 thought to remain in the wild. - AFP