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December 14, 2009

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Pandas urged to be close mates

AUSTRALIAN and Chinese officials urged two bamboo-munching giant pandas yesterday to consider reproducing during their 10-year residency Down Under.

Wang Wang and Fu Ni, on loan from China, arrived at the Adelaide Zoo two weeks ago but were officially welcomed yesterday by the officials at the opening ceremony of their A$8 million (US$7.25 million) enclosure.

Their exhibit will open to the public today.

"Look after yourselves, keep healthy and active, eat your greens and maybe, when the time is right, think about starting a family," Governor General Quentin Bryce said in a speech directed at Fu Ni and Wang Wang, who were sprawled against nearby boulders, chewing bamboo shoots.

"There are not enough of you in this world."

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Junsai said he was already thinking of Australian names for a possible panda cub.

"Wang Wang and Fu Ni carry the friendship and greetings from the Chinese people," he told the gathering, explaining that Fu Ni means "Lucky Girl" and Wang Wang means "Net Net."

"Who can rule out the possibility that the lucky girl will fall into the net of love and later have a lovely baby?" Zhang said. "This would be a great achievement of the joint China-Australia conservation program."

The pandas, 3 and 4 years old, are the only giant pandas in the southern hemisphere. Chinese President Hu Jintao offered the pandas as a goodwill gesture during a 2007 visit to Australia.

Fu Ni and Wang Wang will be kept in separate enclosures until breeding season.

Wild female giant pandas are sexually mature at about age 5, and males at 6 or 7 years old. They may mature earlier in captivity due to better living conditions and nutrition.

One reason pandas are endangered is that they are notoriously poor breeders, with females having only three days a year in which they can conceive. Some males never succeed at natural breeding, so artificial insemination has become common practice.

The pandas are expected to generate more than US$575 million for the South Australia state economy, with an anticipated 262,000 foreign visitors and 1.3 million Australians visiting Adelaide to see the animals.


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