Panda pair from China scheduled to land in MarchA pair of giant pandas promised by Chinese President Xi Jinping as a gift to South Korea are due to arrive in their new home next month.
President Xi pledged the pandas following talks in July 2014 with President Park Geun-hye in Seoul. Park at the summit meeting said that the pandas would be a “symbol of the two countries’ friendship.”
Nearly two years later, the male and female pair are finally scheduled to arrive in Korea, where they will be housed at a theme park that includes a zoo operated by Samsung Everland in Yongin, Gyeonggi.
“The pair of pandas, to be loaned by the China Wildlife Conservation Association, will arrive by a private jet to Korea,” Samsung Everland announced on Thursday. “After an adjustment period, they will be introduced to the public in April.”
Their presence will make South Korea the 14th country with pandas.
The pandas, a 2-year-old female and a 3-year-old male, hail from Sichuan in southwest China.
The female panda is 154 centimeters tall (21 inches) and weighs 78.5 kilograms (173 pounds). “She likes water and has a gentle personality,” said Kwon Su-wan, director of the zoo at Everland.
The male, who weighs 89 kilograms and is 163 centimeters tall “is talented at climbing trees and at handstands.”
They will be fed 15 to 20 kilograms (33 to 44 pounds) of bamboo per day from the Seomjin River in South Gyeongsang.
China has often taken advantage of panda diplomacy. These rare pandas have been considered a top means for improving diplomatic relations with countries over the past few decades.
Beijing has sent the bears to countries including the United States, Japan, France and Britain upon the establishment of bilateral ties as well as on other occasions.
There are only an estimated 1,800 giant pandas left in the wild.
Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), international and domestic regulations prohibit the use and international trade of these endangered species for commercial purposes.
Currently, there are around 50 pandas in 13 countries outside China.
“We are in the process of building a ‘Panda World’ on 7,000 square meters of land to raise and show the pandas,” said Kim Bong-yung, the president of Samsung C&T Resort that operates Everland, adding that he anticipated a 50 percent increase of Chinese tourists to the park.
Korea has received other animals from China before.
Following former President Kim Young-sam’s visit to Beijing in 1994, Chinese President Jiang Zemin sent a pair of Siberian tigers to celebrate the establishment of diplomatic ties between South Korea and China.
In 2008, Chinese President Hu Jintao presented Korea with a pair of crested ibises.
Xi’s panda pledge was meant to be indicative of his consideration for bilateral relations.
The pandas pair will be on loan for 15 years for the purpose of joint research. Korea will be required to pay $1 million annually toward research fees. Any babies the pair may produce will belong to China.
BY YEH YOUNG-JUNE, SARAH KIM [email@example.com]