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Panda-monium Takes over Spain
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Two giant pandas were welcomed like heads of state when they arrived in Spain from China on Saturday, to begin a new life in an air-conditioned pagoda and custom-built gardens at Madrid zoo.


Seven-year-old male Bing Xing and 3-year-old female Hua Zui Ba were whisked through an area usually reserved for presidents and diplomats at Madrid airport before heading to the zoo in an air-conditioned truck, escorted by paramilitary police.



The pandas, which risk extinction in their native mountains and bamboo forests, are on loan to Spain for 10 years as a goodwill gesture by the Chinese government. It is hoped they will breed.


The lease is part of the Giant Panda International Conservation Cooperation Project between China and Spain.


According to Jesus Fernandez Moran, an official from the Madrid Zoo, around September 14, the Spanish royal family will host a welcoming ceremony for the panda pair.


Both Queen Dona Sofia and Qiu Xiaoqi, Chinese ambassador to Spain, will attend the ceremony.


Bing Xing, whose name means "Star of Ice", weighs 140 kg, and his bride Hua Zui Ba, whose name means "Cuty Lips" weighs 93 kg.


On Friday afternoon, the pair bade farewell to their home at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Sichuan, and boarded a delivery truck bound for the Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport.


The pair has been sent to Spain on loan, following through on a goodwill gesture promised during a visit to the country by Spanish King Juan Carlos, in June.


Moran said Madrid Zoo had prepared well for their arrival.


"Deluxe single rooms, air conditioners and humidifiers have been prepared. Their rooms are equipped with 11 closed circuit monitors to watch them round the clock. They will be bred separately, but live close to their raisers," Moran said.


Before construction of the living space for the pandas, workers from Madrid Zoo researched by visiting Chengdu, Hong Kong and Schonbrunn Zoo in Vienna.


"Using Chengdu as reference, we built a pool and put up wooden structures for the pandas to have fun and increase the variety of their activities," Moran said.


Fresh bamboo will be supplied from areas near Madrid, plus France and Portugal, he said.


On June 29, Spanish Queen Dona Sofia visited Chengdu. After her pictures with 10-month-old panda Yuanda appeared in the Spanish media, pandas became big news. Toy pandas have become popular.


In 1978, China sent a pair of pandas, Zhao Zhao and Qiang Qiang, to Spain.


Madrid Zoo proposed a cooperative program on the research of giant panda protection with Chengdu two years ago. The current program was launched in June, during a state visit to China by Spanish King Juan Carlos.


The giant panda is among the world's rarest animals, with about 1,590 living in the wild in China, mostly in Sichuan Province, according to the State Forestry Administration.




(China Daily/Agencies September 10, 2007)

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