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Thai-born panda back to China to find mate


16:48, June 03, 2013

BANGKOK, June 3 (Xinhua) -- It was the 11th time that Pojanee Chaliawgrianggri, a 63-year-old retiree living in Bangkok, traveled to Chiang Mai, 700 km north of the Thai capital, to visit her beloved giant panda Lin Ping.

"Lin Ping and I have so much in common. We are Chinese in blood, born in Thailand but we have never been to China. This year, we are going to visit our mother country together for the first time, " Pojanee said.

In the renowned Chiang Mai Zoo, the Panda House is always crowded with enthusiastic panda fans like Pojanee.

The 4,800-square-meter enclosure accommodates a Chinese giant panda family which has been deemed as "symbol of Chiang Mai" by the provincial authorities.

Lin Ping, first daughter of Lin Hui and Chuang Chuang, a panda couple on a 10-year loan from China since 2003, and first cub born in Thailand, is scheduled to be sent to China on a special plane this October.

Pojanee has made arrangement with the zoo authorities for him to travel to China with Lin Ping.

Lin Ping will adapt to natural surroundings in China and seek a mate for breeding. The newly-matched couple will return to Thailand, possibly within one year, to stay for another 15 years and her parents will then end their 10-year stay in the kingdom, according to a recently renewed contract between the two countries.

Since she was born four years ago, Lin Ping has become one of the most popular animals in Thailand, creating a lasting and prevalent "panda mania" across the country as hundreds of thousands of fans flock to Chiang Mai to see her.

To give her a name, the Chiang Mai Zoo held a one-million-award contest in 2009, drawing around 22 million postcard-votes and "Lin Ping", combination of her mother's family name and the Ping River which runs through Chiang Mai, was the winner.

The panda starlet has had, for three years, her own cable television channel entitled "Lin Ping Reality" which put her in the limelight around the clock by showing live pictures from her enclosure.

The panda family has brought both fame and fortune to the Chiang Mai Zoo, which earned 230 million baht in revenue from the pandas over the past 10 years.

Last year, Lin Ping helped draw more than 1.4 million visitors to the zoo, compared with 800,000 before she was born in 2009, and ticket fees of the Panda House totaled 35 million baht.

As national treasure of China and symbol of Sino-Thai friendship, the pandas are treated as VIP guests at the zoo which hires more than 30 employees including keepers, veterinarians and nutritionists to take care of the pandas.

Some of the keepers and vets are sent to China regularly to learn the latest skills in raising and breeding of pandas. For example, fresh bamboo and fruits are prepared every two hours for the animals.

Bamboo cake, which is made from bamboo blended with small amount of calcium, protein and other supplements recommended by Chinese experts, is the favorite of pandas.

Ice cubes are occasionally put in their pits to help them cool down from the scorching weather in summer.

The news of Lin Ping's temporary return to China has saddened many fans.

Nattaprapa Suriyamontol, a teacher in a Bangkok medical school, traveled at least twice a month to the northern province to see the panda family.

With a heavy camera hanging around her neck, Nattaprapa usually spends the whole day watching every move of the animals and recording them in her camera.

Nattaprapa said she has been to China only once but her love for pandas has encouraged her to learn more about the country, especially Sichuan, the best habitat for pandas.

"I am going to miss Lin Ping a lot. But it's a good thing for her now that she is finally going to visit her native country. I'm really happy for her," she said.

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