A pair of long-promised giant pandas symbolizing "peace, unity and friendship" will be sent to Taiwan next Tuesday as a latest sign of warming ties across the Straits, officials said Wednesday.
The mainland first offered the pandas to the island in 2005, but the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party administration rejected them.
The island's current leader Ma Ying-jeou, however, has tried to nurture ties with the mainland and accepted the pandas as a gesture of goodwill.
The 4-year-old pandas will be flown to Taiwan on Dec 23 from Chengdu, in southwestern Sichuan province, Li Weiyi, spokesman of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, said at a regular news briefing yesterday.
The names of the pandas - Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan - when linked, mean "reunion" in Chinese.
"Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan carry with them the deep attachment that people from the mainland have toward their compatriots in Taiwan," Li said.
The pandas are being pampered in every possible way to ensure they remain healthy in Chengdu.
The pair has been trained intensively to ensure a healthy sex life, so that they would later give birth to more baby "envoys" after settling down on the island, Li said.
"Animal handlers from Taiwan have arrived on the mainland to get familiar with the pandas, and are even talking to them in local dialect so that the pair understands them during their stay in the Taiwan zoo."
"We have made careful arrangements for their safe departure," said keeper Huang Zhi, who works at the Bifengxia Base of the Chinese Giant Panda Research and Protection Center in Ya'an county, Sichuan province.
The pair is currently being kept in "No. 2 House", the biggest and best-equipped pen at the base, with two outdoor playgrounds and two dens. Two veteran keepers and principal of the animal husbandry department are looking after them.
"The pandas have undergone a thorough physical examination and the result has been very good. The pair is in a perfectly healthy condition," said Li Desheng, deputy director of the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center.
The couple is expected to have its first baby after settling down in Taiwan.
"Usually pandas have their first baby at the age of six. Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan are now four years old. In all probability, they will have their first baby in Taiwan," he said.
To help them have a healthy and successful sex life, the pandas are taken for a run everyday to strengthen their bodies.
Tuan Tuan, the male, has a more tiring routing. To strengthen his legs, the keepers hold apples or corn bread high above his head, making him stand on twos for at least 20 minutes a day.
"During sex, the male panda has to stand on his hind legs through out. They need to be strong," Li Desheng said.
(China Daily December 18, 2008)