China selects young pandas to woo tourists for Olympics


GUANGZHOU – A total of eight two-year-old pandas will leave their hometown in southwest China for Beijing next month to entertain tourists around the Olympic Games to be held in August.

The giant pandas, selected by netizens from 16 candidates born in 2006 in the Wolong-based China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in Sichuan Province, are set to depart on May 24 and arrive in the national capital after a three-hour flight, organizers of the program announced on Monday.

They will be on display at the Beijing Zoo until November, and are expected to attract more than 6 million tourists from home and abroad during the six-month show, according to a press conference held in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, on China’s southern coast.

The zoo has already begun to upgrade its facilities to accommodate the additional animals.

Many of their peers in the zoo are getting old. The new members, at a golden age for entertainment, will ensure people have a good time, said Wang Pengyan, vice-director of the Wolong center.

Pure water and fresh bamboo leaves will be prepared during the flight, and air conditioning will maintain a comfortable temperature for the bears, according to Guangdong-based China Southern Airlines.

To ensure the animals’ health and safety, Wolong will send up to eight panda keepers, vets and technicians to help take care of them during their stay in their new home.

The giant panda, known for being sexually inactive, is among the world’s most endangered animals due to their shrinking habitat.

By November, China had 239 giant pandas in captivity, including128 at the Wolong center. About 1,590 other pandas were thought to be living in China’s wilderness, mainly in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces.