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I'm going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo! What about You, You, You? The Pandas are Too, Too, Too! Chiang Mai Zoo, that is!

All going according to schedule, Master Xuang Xuang Panda (4 years old) and Miss Lin Hui Panda (2 years old) will arrive in Thailand, from Chengdu, China, on 12 October and take up residence at Chiang Mai Zoo. To be entrusted with the care of these precious, endangered animals is a tremendous accolade, and challenge, for the staff and veterinarians of our own local zoo. At a budgeted 40 million baht, the Panda Palace is ready to receive the important, long-term guests and we are positive the pandas will just love their brand new accommodation.

The main Panda Palace residence is 520 sq.metres in area, is fully air-conditioned and has glass walls for excellent visitor viewing. There will also be six video cameras installed within the residence so that our panda friends may be monitored and visited by Internet buddies who may care to call on them (www.pandathailand.org). A show arena, research centre, souvenir shop and veterinarian clinic are all included in the new facilities. So this is an exciting time for Chiang Mai Zoo some of the specialist staff and veterinarians have already under gone training and study at the Panda Research and Conservation Centre at Wo Long in Chengdu, China.

It is planned that the panda pair will stay at Chiang Mai Zoo for the next 10 years. This is the agreed loan period between the Chinese and Thai Governments and it is really thanks to Thailand's Prime Minister, H.E. Taksin Shinawatra, that the pandas are coming to Chiang Mai. It was the Prime Minister's personal decision that the panda guests be hosted at our local zoo in the former Kingdom of Lanna-Thai.

Before you go to see the pandas, maybe a little bit of information will be helpful. Do you know if a panda is from the bear family or the raccoon family? Even experts do not agree about this some say bear, some say raccoon but because our panda guests are the black & white Giant Pandas, we will call them "Panda Bears". The Giant Panda also has cousin which is smaller in size; this is the Red Panda and they look more like raccoons (this is why the experts are confused).

The Giant Panda, weighing up to 160 kilograms, comes from Sichuan Province in China. In the wild, they live on the mountain slopes and never roam very far from where they were born maybe only 1 square kilometer in area. There are not many pandas left (less than 1,000) because their environment is changing, their diet is not very nutritious and they are not very successful at having babies. The panda bear mostly likes to eat a certain type of young bamboo shoot, soft stem or trunk, branch, treetop, and leaves which are not very nourishing, so it has to eat a lot (sometimes all day long) to get enough food for survival.

Each panda would love to eat 20-25 kilograms of bamboo shoot per day. Pandas also enjoy eating vegetables and fruits carrot, apple, and Chinese pear. After research study of bamboo varieties which are prefered by pandas, two Thailand's bamboo Phai Yok and Phai Waan are being grown along with other six species imported from China. Mae-Hia Center of Bamboo and the Royal Projects at Ang Khang as well as at Paang-Da are growing these eight bamboo species. When a female panda becomes pregnant, the baby is usually born in the autumn season. The baby panda is extremely small (maybe only 250 grams), is completely white in color and cannot see. The mother panda will gently carry her baby in her mouth until it grows too big. The baby will first drink its mother's milk but after about 6 months the baby panda will begin to eat bamboo for itself and the color of its fur will already have changed from pure white to black and white. Baby and mother will stay together for about 18 months and then the young one will go off alone to find its own territory. This is the way they like to live. Pandas mature at around six years and they can survive for about 25 years in the wild.

Neither of the pandas at Chiang Mai Zoo are yet fully mature so there will be many wonderful opportunities to watch them play as they grow to adulthood. Everyone loves panda bears they look so cute and Chiang Mai Zoo has provided tremendous new facilities for the pandas. Also great new facilities for human visitors so girls, boys, Moms and Dads (and overseas visitors to our city), this is your chance to come along and see the new residents at Chiang Mai Zoo. By the way, it is thought that our two pandas should have suitable Thai names (instead of their present Chinese names) during the time they are on holiday in Thailand. So everyone in Thailand is welcome to suggest Thai names for Master Panda and Miss Panda to win the contest with the total value of 200,000 Baht in cash and prizes. The chosen names will be announced on 15 November 2003. Good Luck!

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