Giant panda pair to go to Japan

14:56, July 28, 2010      

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Two giant pandas will leave their home in southwest China's Sichuan Province early next year for a 10-year stay in a Japanese zoo.

Bi Li and Xian Nu will go to Japan in January or February and live in Tokyo's Ueno Zoo, under an agreement reached between the Tokyo metropolitan government and the China Wildlife Conservation Association Monday, the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in Wolong said on its website Wednesday.

The gifts are in accordance with a 2008 agreement by Chinese President Hu Jintao and then-Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda during Hu's Japan visit.

Bi Li, a male weighing 135 kilograms, and Xian Nu, a female whose name means "fairy" and who weighs 120 kg, are both about 5 years old, which is equivalent to 19 years old in human years, said Tang Chunxiang, deputy chief at the Wolong center.

The endangered bear has served as a diplomat in China-Japan ties for centuries. The earliest recorded Chinese gift of pandas to Japan was in 685, when a Tang Dynasty empress offered a pair to the Japanese emperor.

Tang said both pandas are healthy and have good appetites. "Their first offspring could come in the summer of 2012."

The Tokyo zoo will solicit names for the pair from the Japanese public.

When China and Japan forged diplomatic ties in 1972, China presented two giant pandas, Lan Lan and Kang Kang, to Japan as a special gift.

Another pair, Huan Huan and Fei Fei, were given in the 1980s. In 1992, Beijing-born panda Ling Ling was sent to Tokyo in exchange for one of the couple's cubs to avoid inbreeding.

Ling Ling died of heart disease in 2008 aged 22.

China stopped offering pandas as gifts to foreign countries amid a sharp decline in the panda population in the early 1980s. Pandas are now leased out for joint research.

A joint research program took panda couple Mei Mei and Yong Ming to Japan in 1994. Their cub, Xing Bang (or Kohin in Japanese), returned to China in March this year aged 4 years old.



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