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People's Daily Online>>Foreign Affairs

France welcomes giant panda pair

(Shanghai Daily)

09:11, January 16, 2012

A PAIR of giant pandas received a state welcome when they landed in Paris yesterday on a 10-year loan to France from China.

Huan Huan and Yuan Zi, both three, touched down at Charles de Gaulle Airport at around 11am before being escorted to their new home in France's Loire Valley, accompanied by a Republican Guard motorcade normally reserved for heads of state.

"We are giving them such a welcome because they represent part of China's national treasure," said Rodolphe Delord, head of ZooParc de Beauval, where the bears will live.

"When China agrees to lend pandas to a country, it's a great show of confidence and friendship," Delord said.

China has been sending pandas abroad in gestures of goodwill since the 1950s in what has come to be known as "panda diplomacy." Last month, two arrived in Scotland to cheers and flag-waving crowds.

Huan Huan and Yuan Zi are the first pandas on French soil since the death of Yen Yen at Vincennes Zoo, just outside Paris, in 2000.

The pair, from the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, flew in a specially equipped Boeing 777, snoozing and eating bamboo in custom-built enclosures.

They were looked after during the flight by Delord and a Chinese vet and animal handler.

At ZooParc de Beauval, considered one of the 15 most beautiful zoos in the world and home to 4,600 animals, the pandas will be given four weeks to settle into their new surroundings before going on display to the public from February 11.

It is hoped they will breed in a new Chinese area at the zoo, enjoying life in two interior air-conditioned enclosures and two exterior areas with Chinese plants and as much bamboo as they desire.

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