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February 3, 2010

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Wanted: boyfriend for panda, very cute

A PANDA breeding center in southwest China is looking for a "boyfriend" to welcome a female panda from the United States later this week.

Three-year-old Mei Lan will be flown to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan Province on Friday from Washington, together with Tai Shan, a 4-year-old male panda.

The base is asking the public to choose a "boyfriend" for Mei Lan as she has reached mating age, said Huang Xiangming, director of the base's animal management department.

"We have created Web pages on popular Internet portals to post images and introduce Mei Lan and a number of male pandas," Huang said.

"We are inviting panda fans to vote for the best 'boyfriend' for Mei Lan according to their physical appearance, character, living habits and experts' suggestions on the match," he said.

"Mei Lan has been living in the United States since she was born, and she must be unfamiliar with Chinese, especially the Sichuan dialect," Huang said.

"So we will find a Chinese language teacher for her, in addition to an exclusive keeper, and help her adapt to her new life faster," he said.

Diet changes

Mei Lan would have to change her diet habits gradually.

"We have asked the American zookeepers to bring Mei Lan's favorite biscuits, but we will gradually use Chinese 'wotou' (steamed bread of corn, sorghum and others) and fresh bamboo to replace biscuits," Huang said.

Mei Lan would be quarantined for a certain period just like all other pandas arriving from overseas, he said.

Mei Lan has been living at the Zoo Atlanta since she was born in September 2006.

Her parents Lun Lun and Yang Yang arrived in Atlanta in November 1999.

Tai Shan, who was born in July 2005 and raised at the National Zoo in Washington, will later go to the Ya'an Bifeng Gorge Breeding Base of Wolong National Nature Reserve, another panda breeding center in Sichuan.

Tai Shan was supposed to come to China at age 2. The Chinese government agreed to postpone its return twice in 2007 and 2009 at the request of the National Zoo.

Tai Shan's father Tian Tian, 13, and mother Mei Xiang, 12, are due to return to China in December next year.


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