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Giant pandas grab London's imagination

Updated: 2012-07-05 03:20
By Zhang Haizhou in London ( China Daily)

Sichuan province in Southwest China is home to the giant panda and boasts the largest population of the animals in the world.

But this week Sichuan has a rival to its title of panda capital of the world, and the competition comes from an unlikely challenger.

London, better known as the home of Big Ben, is hosting 108 pandas who will be sightseeing in the English capital as part of International Panda Awareness Week, fittingly known as PAW.

The event was launched on Wednesday with 108 costumed pandas performing a tai chi-inspired dance in central London's Trafalgar Square.

Giant pandas grab London's imagination

Panda Awareness Week was launched in London on Wednesday with 108 "bears" adding to the British capital's attractions with a dance routine in Trafalgar Square.  [Photo/Agencies]

PAW was pioneered by the Chengdu Panda Base, a world-leading breeding and research center for giant pandas in Sichuan, and aims to enhance awareness and support for the conservation of one of the world's most threatened species.

There will be a number of events in London this week, including a panda posse hosting a panda party in Covent Garden, pandas taking over the London Underground and pandas visiting the city's most famous landmarks.

The week is Chengdu's latest campaign to raise awareness of the endangered animal. London was chosen as the venue for the campaign because the Olympic Games open in the city in just over 20 days.

Last month black-and-white stripes were painted on 30 taxis to imitate the look of a panda, and another 20 taxis were decorated with a painting of a cartoon panda in its natural habitat surrounded by bamboo. Both designs featured the slogan "Chengdu, hometown of pandas, spice it up." PAW is supported by British TV wildlife presenter Nigel Marven, who is also the first Chengdu panda ambassador from the West.

Marven and panda experts from Chengdu, accompanied by the costumed pandas, will visit London primary schools to educate children about the importance of saving the giant panda and tell them how they can play a role in Chengdu's conservation efforts.

"It was a truly magical experience that resulted in me having the privilege of becoming the first Western Chengdu panda ambassador. Pandas have been a lifelong passion of mine, which is why I jumped at the chance to be involved with the launch of PAW in London," said Marven.

"I am confident all the great work taking place during PAW will highlight the fantastic efforts of Chengdu city, especially the CPB, and help raise awareness for one of the world's most threatened species, the giant panda."

The panda base was founded in 1987 when six giant pandas were rescued from the wild. Chengdu now has the largest captive breeding panda population in the world and aims to increase the number from 108 to 150 in the next decade.

Sichuan is home to more than 80 percent of the world's panda population.

"Our ultimate goal is to help pandas return to their natural habitat and to increase the number of giant pandas living in the wild. We hope that PAW will help us to boost support for panda conservation and find new advocates for this special cause," said Zhang Zhihe, director of the panda base.

Li Yu in Chengdu contributed to this story.