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Beijing Unveils Panda Couple for Taiwan
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The mainland unveiled Friday the two giant pandas to be presented to Taiwan as gifts.


The panda couple, namely No.19 (male) and No.16 (female), was selected from 23 candidates raised at Wolong's China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP) in the southwestern province of Sichuan, said Cao Qingyao, a spokesperson for the State Forestry Administration, at a press conference.


No.19, first son of the US-returned star panda "Hua Mei," is one year and four months old, weighing 46 kg and his lover No.16 is one month older than him, weighing 48 kg, said Cao, adding the final selection was based on a three-month "trial marriages" that test whether the couple could fit each other.


"The panda experts were very, very cautious during the selection. So I can say No.19 and No.16 are the best choice," he said.


"We hope the couple can go to Taiwan as soon as possible and the Taiwan authorities can follow the wishes of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits, providing active cooperation on this issue," Dai Xiaofeng, head of the exchange bureau with the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, said today.


"We also hope the Taiwan authorities can authorize an organization that will be responsible for discussing affairs about the panda couple with wildlife protection departments on the mainland," Cao said.



In addition, the mainland began to solicit pet names for the two giant pandas.


An ideal name will consist of two Chinese characters and fully embody the aspiration of Chinese compatriots across the Taiwan Straits, Cao said.


Chinese compatriots on both sides of the Straits, overseas Chinese and all friendly personages are welcome to mull names for the panda couple, he said.


The China Wildlife Conservation Association will be responsible for the name mulling project, which will last from now until 8 PM on January 20.


"We'll shortlist 10 pairs of names that will be publicized at the Spring Festival gala broadcast by China Central Television on January 28, the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year," Cao said. "The couple will be given the names that receive most votes from TV viewers."


Chen Yunlin, director of the Taiwan Affairs Office, announced last May that the mainland would present a pair of giant pandas to Taiwan as a symbol of peace, unity and friendship.


The panda selection standards included physiology, psychology, behavior, looks, genetics and age, said Zhang Hemin, director of the CCRCGP and head of the nine-member expert group in charge of the selection work.


"First, we should make sure that the two are not close relatives and then consider that the couple can breed babies in Taiwan," Zhang said. "So their age should be one to four as giant pandas usually get sexually mature at the age of four to five."


Some leading zoologists from Taiwan have also been invited to Wolong to discuss technical issues on panda breeding, he said.



The giant panda is one of the world's most endangered species and is found only in China. It is estimated that 1,590 giant pandas live wild in China and those in captivity totaled 183 in the mainland by the end of 2005.



(Xinhua News Agency January 6, 2006)

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