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Americans still going crazy for pandas
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AS China and the United States celebrate the 30th anniversary of their diplomatic ties, giant pandas continue to serve as "special envoys of friendship" in US zoos, just as they did in 1972.

"We know pandas have a special diplomatic symbol associated with them," said Lisa Stevens, chief curator of giant pandas at Washington's National Zoo.

"They are symbols of friendship between the United States and China," she said.

Stevens said that in 1987 she started to take care of Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, the first panda couple given to the US as a result of former President Richard Nixon's historic trip to China in 1972.

Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing triggered a panda craze in the US, she said. "They symbolized the effort to conserve endangered species as well as diplomacy between China and the US and other countries as well."

The arrival of China's pandas in the US hit the headlines of major American newspapers in 1972 and the pages are still on display in the zoo's panda house, along with various souvenirs with panda images, such as beer bottles and drawing books.

A green crate used to transport Ling Ling is also among the exhibits, with Chinese characters reading "from the People's Republic of China" on it.

When Ling Ling got sick, many Americans, especially children, sent their best wishes on cards to the zoo. "Get well soon," one wrote.

Another panda couple, Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, arrived in 2000. Tai Shan, the male cub they gave birth to in 2005, is now a star attraction.

There are four pairs of pandas and four cubs in the US the others are in San Diego, Atlanta and Memphis.

(Xinhua News Agency January 5, 2009)

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