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China's Pandas to Celebrate 1st 'Snow Winter' in Thailand
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Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui, Chiang Mai Zoo's super stars, may be celebrating their third anniversary in Thailand with blueprints of a new home -- a 50 million baht (about US$1.3 million U.S. dollars) worth habitat with falling snow.


The panda pair have been the zoo's residents as "friendship ambassadors" from China since October 2003. During the past years, they have been living in air-conditioned house.


Although Chiang Mai City is the coolest region in the tropical country, the around-the-year hot season seems far from the changeful weather in their hometown, China's Wo Long.


But starting in 2009, every winter there'll be something extra to see: snow falling from the ceiling at the flick of a switch.


"The panda is actually an animal that lives in the snow," Prasertsak Buntrakunpuntawee, the chief of the zoo's panda program, was quoted by local newspaper on Thursday as saying, "Providing them with cool temperatures and snow each winter will keep them happy -- they love the snow!"


The zoo is now submitting plans for a new 50 million baht (about US$1.3 million) worth panda habitat to the government, he said. If approved, the two-year construction project will begin early next year.


Prasertsak said the pandas are well taken care of because the zoo recognize their importance as international diplomats, and it's not a role to be taken lightly.


"Our pair are important ambassadors to whom we pay great attention," Prasertsak said. "It's also to a great opportunity for us to learn more about the animals' biology and help with panda conservation."


His team is planning for Lin Hui's pregnancy in the near future, so the new home has been designed with a baby in mind.


"The pregnancy isn't a sure thing, of course -- at the moment there's only a 50 percent chance," he added.


(Xinhua News Agency April 28, 2006)

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