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China to welcome home American-born pandas

SOUTHWEST China's Sichuan Province is ready to welcome home two American-born giant pandas, Tai Shan and Mei Lan, this afternoon.

The two pandas are expected to arrive at Shuangliu International Airport in the provincial capital Chengdu at around 4:20 pm.

China's top two panda research centers, the Wolong nature reserve and the Chengdu research base of giant panda breeding, will co-host a welcoming ceremony at the airport upon the pandas' arrival.

The two pandas' parents were lent to US zoos for conservation. Tai Shan's father Tian Tian, 13, and mother Mei Xiang, 12, are due to return to China in December next year.

Tai Shan, a 4.5-year-old male panda born at the National Zoo of Washington D.C., will return to the Ya'an Bifeng Gorge Breeding Base of Wolong National Nature Reserve this evening.

Three-year-old Mei Lan, who has been living at Zoo Atlanta since she was born in September 2006, will stay at Chengdu Research Base. Her parents Lun Lun and Yang Yang arrived in Atlanta in November 1999.

Their new homes have been carefully spruced up.

A banner hanging at the entrance of the base reads "Welcome home, Tai Shan".

"A team of panda keepers are waiting for Tai Shan's return, including zoologists, vets and nutritionists," said Wang Chengdong, a vet with Ya'an Bifeng Gorge Breeding Base, Tai Shan's new home. "We have also prepared a variety of fresh bamboos for him to choose from."

Wang and nutritionist Wu Daifu will lead the team of caregivers for Tai Shan. Both speak English well enough to communicate with the American specialists who have accompanied Tai Shan to China.

The Chengdu base, on the other hand, is looking for a "Chinese language teacher" for Mei Lan, hoping the American-born panda will get familiar with Chinese soon.

The base is also asking the public to choose a "boyfriend" for Mei Lan, who has reached mating age.

"We have created web pages on popular Internet portals to post images and descriptions of Mei Lan and a number of male pandas. We are inviting panda fans to vote for the her 'Mr. Right' according to their physical appearance, character, living habits and experts' suggestions on the match," said Huang Xiangming, director of the base's animal management department.


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