Pandas depart for Paris research project

Updated: 2012-01-16 08:01

By Huang Zhiling (China Daily)

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CHENGDU - A pair of pandas from the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding left the capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province on Sunday morning and was expected to arrive in Paris after flying nearly 11 hours.

Yuan Zai and Huan Huan will stay in ZooParc de Beauval in France to take part in a conservation and research program for a decade under a loan agreement reached between China and France.

"They are the first panda pair sent to France since 1973," said Zhang Zhihe, chief of the Chengdu base.

In 1973, China sent Li Li and Yan Yan to a zoo in Paris. Li Li died one year after arriving, and Yan Yan lived alone in France for 27 years before dying of old age.

"The arrival of Huan Huan and Yuan Zai is a historic event for ZooParc de Beauval, marking the accomplishment of a great collaboration with China," said Francoise Delord, founder and president of ZooParc de Beauval.

"We have been looking forward to this moment for five years. The zoo has prepared for this epic journey for a long time," he added.

Since 2005, workers from the French zoo have visited the Chengdu base many times, and in late 2007, experts from the Chengdu base visited the zoo to investigate whether it had the experts and proper facilities. The exchange of visits convinced the Chinese side that the French zoo was fully prepared for the arrival of the duo.

"The dedicated team has worked tirelessly to create a world-class enclosure to house the newest additions to the zoo, which will offer visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view these extraordinary animals," Delord said.

"The zoo has collected more than 20 kinds of bamboo from Europe and will provide the pair whatever they favor," Delord said.

Officials from China's State Forestry Administration, the French Consulate General in Chengdu, the Chengdu base and the French zoo attended a farewell ceremony held for the pair in the base on Saturday afternoon.

They were amused with the video showing the moment when the two pandas were born in 2008.

Yuan Zai, male, likes climbing trees, playing with balls and catching butterflies while Huan Huan, female, is gentle and likes sitting quietly and feasting on her favorite food all day.

At 3 am on Sunday, the pair was loaded on a vehicle bound for the Shuangliu International Airport in Chengdu, and they left for France five hours later on a Boeing plane owned by Federal Express. Known as the "FedEx Panda Express," the plane was specially decorated with a panda motif.

The Chengdu base prepared bamboo shoots, apples and buns to keep the pandas fed during their flight. One keeper and one vet from the Chengdu base and an employee from the French zoo accompanied them. And the two workers from Chengdu will stay in the French zoo for two years, Zhang said.

The two pandas will be present on Jan 27 when France celebrates the 48th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France. But they will not meet the public until after one month of quarantine and adaptation to the new environment, he said.

In addition to Yuan Zai and Huan Huan, another 36 Chinese pandas are now staying overseas, Zhang added.

China Daily

(China Daily 01/16/2012 page3)