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Visiting Angels from China

What's black and white and red? What else could the answer be but two pandas sitting in a cherry tree. The panda guests of the Chiang Mai Zoo don't have a cherry tree to sit in but their facilities are first class built at a budget of 40 million Baht.

The two pandas arrived to a big fanfare in October 2003. At that time known as, Master Xuang Xuang Panda (4 years old) and Miss Lin Hui Panda (2 years old), they took up residence at the Chiang Mai Zoo. Early in 2004, the pandas were given the winning names selected in a national competition. The male is called as Master Taywan and the female is called as Miss Taywee. The pandas get along well in their accommodation known as the Panda Palace residence measuring 520 sq.metres in area. It is fully air-conditioned and has glass walls for excellent viewing by up to 200 visitors per day.

Six video cameras were installed within the residence so that our panda friends could be closely 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.

It is planned that the panda pair will stay at Chiang Mai Zoo for the next 10 years. The agreement between the Chinese and Thai Governments is a timely event in celebration of Her Majesty the Queen's sixth cycle birthday anniversary in 2004. It was Thai Prime Minister H.E. Taksin Shinawatra's personal decision that the panda guests be hosted at the 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 and 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 preferred by pandas, two Thailand's bamboo Phai Yok and Phai Waan were selected to grow 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. Good Luck to our panda friends!

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