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Mainland panda pair arrive in Taiwan
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A chartered plane carrying two giant pandas from the Chinese mainland touched down at the Taoyuan Airport in Taiwan at 5:02 p.m. Tuesday.

The 4-year-old bears, Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, have already finished quarantine examinations at the airport.

The large cage they stayed in was unloaded from the plane and put on a zoo truck, which was waiting for them at the airport.

They would be escorted by the police to their new home at the Taipei zoo, according to the Taiwan-based Eastern Broadcasting Co. (EBC).

EBC's TV footage showed that the panda pair had been transported into the zoo at around 7:30 p.m.

They will be isolated for a month for further quarantine before meeting the Taiwan public.

The pair left a breeding base in Ya'an in southwest China's Sichuan Province in an enclosed truck at about 8:20 a.m. Tuesday.

They were transported to Sichuan's provincial capital of Chengdu, about 120 km from Ya'an. From there, they were transported to the island by air.

Since the rare animals were probably tired from the journey, the Taipei zoo wouldn't hold any welcoming ceremony on Tuesday night, zoo spokesman Jason S.C. Chin said.

The panda pair have become "sweethearts" on the island. Their cartoon images were displayed at bus stations and the airport entrance.

The island's largest bookstore chain, Elite Books, put DVDs about the bears on a showcase counter. Most department stores on the island sold stuffed panda toys and stationery bearing their images.

"I am sure the panda house will be the most popular exhibit in the zoo when Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan finish their quarantine," said a woman surnamed Lin at the zoo's media reception department.

The Taipei city government said in a statement that the pair are expected to attract about 6 million visitors to the zoo annually, double the current number.

"Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan will be a valuable New Year gift for Taiwan. Parents have an interesting story to tell their kids and kids will have a joyful thing to do next year," said the United Daily News in an editorial Tuesday. "Their arrival here has a greater significance, that is, the peace they stand for."

The zoo administration has no plan to change the bears' names, which together mean "reunion" in Chinese, Chin said.

Feeders aboard the plane told Xinhua that the bears did experience airsickness during nearly three-hour flight. They took an hour's nap after take-off and then took some food and water.

After landing at the airport in Taipei, the pair were in good physical and psychological condition, the feeders said.

For the panda pair's first meal in their new home, the zoo prepared a specially-made menu including Sichuan bamboos carried from the pair's birthplace, bamboos grown in Taiwan and also 1.2 kg of steamed corn bread blended by both Sichuan and Taiwan flavors.

The zoo's feeders had traveled to the Wolong panda breeding base in Sichuan Province to learn how to make the bread.

The pair were transported to Chengdu from the Bifeng Gorge Base in Ya'an, Sichuan early Tuesday. They had been transferred there in June after the May 12 strong quake which damaged their former home in Wolong.

Before the departure from Ya'an, the pandas had their breakfast - carrots and steamed corn buns. Hundreds of locals came to bid farewell to the lovable animals.

About 20 experts and two of the pair's original keepers were on the flight to Taiwan. They brought a week's worth of food, including more than 400 kg of bamboo, pandas' staple food.

The first proposal to present a panda pair to the island was made in 1983 by Ms. Liu Caipin, a deputy from Taiwan to the sixth National People's Congress, China's top legislature.

"After more than twenty years of waiting, my dream has finally come true," Liu, now a 71-year-old Chinese living in Japan, told Xinhua by telephone when learning of the panda pair's arrival in Taiwan on Tuesday.

Giant pandas are among the world's most endangered animals. There are about 1,590 pandas living in China's wild, mostly in Sichuan and the northwestern provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu. Through 2007, there were 239 captive bred giant pandas in the country.

The mainland announced in May 2005 it would donate two giant pandas to Taiwan. Their departure has been delayed for more than three years. Improved cross-Straits ties make their journey to Taiwan possible.

Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan "will sow the seeds of peace, solidarity and friendship on Taiwan's soil, with the good wishes of 1.3 billion mainland compatriots," said the mainland's State Council Taiwan Affairs Office Deputy Director, Zheng Lizhong, at a ceremony in Chengdu.

"They would also witness with us the beautiful prospects of the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations, the future of the common prosperity and the great revival of the Chinese nation," Zheng said.

The pandas are expected to meet the public in Taiwan during the Spring Festival, the Chinese lunar new year, after a one-month quarantine. The exact date depends on how they adapt to the new environment.

(Xinhua News Agency December 23, 2008)

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