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Saturday, December 09, 2000, updated at 16:16(GMT+8)

Giant Pandas, the Goodwill Ambassadors

A pair of Chinese giant pandas became goodwill ambassadors on Thursday to pass on the greetings of the Chinese people to the people of the United States.

Mei Xiang, a 2-year-old female, and Tian Tian, a 3-year-old male, arrived at the Dulles International Airport of Washington, capital of the United States, early Thursday morning (Beijing time) . They will be at the National Zoo in Washington for at least 10 years.

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian will meet visitors in early January, 2001.

At the request of the American people, the Chinese government decided in April this year to lease the pair of pandas to the National Zoo in Washington.

The Chinese government presented two pandas, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, to the US following former US president Richard Nixon's historic visit in 1972. More than 8,000 Americans welcomed the arrival of the two pandas despite of the rain. Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing died in 1993 and 1998, respectively.

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian have become a big attraction worldwide. Correspondents from dozens of foreign media groups rushed to the Wolong Nature Reserve, home to the giant pandas in southwest China 's Sichuan Province, to cover the rare species, known as "living fossils".

The US Discovery channel spent US$5 million to obtain the exclusive right to report on the pandas' 10-year stay in Washington.

Only about 1,000 giant pandas remain in the wild, mostly in western and central China. The endangered species, which belong to the same age of the dinosaur, has been regarded by China as a "state treasure".

In 685 AD., empress Wuzetian of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) sent two giant pandas, for the first time as gifts, to the Mikado of Japan.

The Chinese government, between 1957 and 1982, presented 24 giant pandas to nine friendly countries including the former Soviet Union, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), the United States, Japan, France, Britain, Mexico, Spain and the former Federal Germany.

Pandas have been invited to visit friendly countries and international organizations many times over the past decades.

Many foreign research institutes have expressed the hope to cooperate with Chinese counterparts to find ways to save the rare animals.

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian will be under a joint research program between Chinese and US scientists in the next 10 years.

Sources with the State Forestry Bureau said that at present, China has built 27 giant panda protection zones, and protection work is going smoothly in 32 counties inhabited by pandas.

Currently, 95 percent of giant pandas living in the wild are under protection and the decrease in the number of wild pandas has been put under control.

The Ministry of Forestry has allocated 70 million yuan (US$8.43 million) to protect the animals.

At the same time, China has been successful in artificial breeding of giant pandas. Up to now, China has bred 96 pandas, of which 61 have survived.

Scientists worldwide are optimistic about the future of the pandas. A panda, born in the US last year, was named Hua Mei, which means "China and the America" in Chinese.

The name symbolizes the close partnership forged between China and the United States in efforts to pull pandas back from the brink of extinction, said Don Lindburg, the panda team leader of the San Diego Zoo.

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A pair of Chinese giant pandas became goodwill ambassadors on Thursday to pass on the greetings of the Chinese people to the people of the United States.

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