Chinese pandas attract huge crowd to Taipei Zoo

January 26th, 2009 - 11:59 am ICT by IANS  

Taipei, Jan 26 (DPA) Some 100,000 people flocked to the Taipei Zoo Monday to see the two giant pandas that China gave to Taiwan as a symbol of friendship.The pandas, named by China as Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan - Tuanyuan means reunion in Chinese - were shown to Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou and 500 children Saturday, but they made their official debut Monday, the first day of the Chinese New Year holidays.

Visitors began to queue up early Monday outside the Taipei Zoo, arriving by plane, train, bus or car from all parts of Taiwan.

Liu Ping-shan, 32, a truck driver from Yunlin County, west Taiwan, drove his mother and two-year-old daughter Sunday night to Taipei, in north Taiwan.

“We slept for a few hours in a motel before coming here to stand in line at 5 a.m.,” he said.

Li Chi-fang, a 40-year-old businessman, was standing in the queue, though he has already seen and held pandas at the panda research centre in Sichuan, China.

“I want to see these pandas, just for fun,” he said.

The Taipei Zoo expects the pandas, which are an endangered species, to bring one million more visitors to the zoo annually. On Monday, the first day of their official debut, 100,000 visitors are expected to visit the Taipei Zoo to see the pandas.

However, only 22,000 visitors are allowed to see the pandas each day, and people can remain in the Panda House for only 10 minutes.

On a first-come, first-serve basis, visitors must take numbered tickets at the gate which tell them when to enter the Panda House.

Out of the daily quota of 22,000 visitors, 1,400 tickets are reserved each day during the Chinese New Year holidays for travel agencies in central and south Taiwan, to organise panda tours to Taipei.

Chinese President Hu Jintao offered to give two pandas to Taiwan in 2005. The previous government of ex-president Chen Shui-bian rejected the offer, calling the animals propaganda tools.

After Ma Ying-jeou from the China-friendly Chinese Nationalist Party took office May 20, 2008, his government promptly approved the pandas’ import and urged the public not to politicise the issue.

Yet the pandas do carry political symbolism, and China named them Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan to symbolise that Taiwan and China should reunify.

At the gate of the Taipei Zoo, a man caused a stir Monday morning as he tried to distribute three panda toys.

The velvet pandas were given away free, so long as the receiver agreed to also accept the red national flag of China.

“You cannot only accept China’s gift of pandas without accepting China. That’s why I am giving away both panda toys and China’s flags,” Chen Yun-ching, 60, said.

“I am a firm supporter of Taiwan-China unification. President Ma took the right step in improving cross-strait ties. I hope it won’t be long before Taiwan and China are united,” he said, wrapping himself in a huge Chinese flag.

Most of the zoo visitors looked at Chen with suspicion, and some openly questioned his intentions.

But three tourists accepted the velvet pandas together with the Chinese flags.

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