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Pandas Down Under: Wang Wang and Funi move from China to Australia's Adelaide Zoo

December 14, 2009 |  4:06 pm

Australiapanda1 ADELAIDE, Australia — Australian and Chinese officials urged two bamboo-munching giant pandas on Sunday to consider reproducing during their 10-year residency Down Under.

Wang Wang and Funi, on loan from China, arrived at the Adelaide Zoo two weeks ago but were officially welcomed Sunday by leaders at the opening ceremony of their $8-million (Australian, $7.25 million U.S.) enclosure. Their exhibit will open to the public on Monday.

"Look after yourselves, keep healthy and active, eat your greens and maybe, when the time is right, think about starting a family," Gov. Gen. Quentin Bryce said in a speech directed at Funi 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 Funi carry the friendship and greetings from the Chinese people," he told the gathering, explaining that Funi 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 Australia-China 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.

Australia welcomes giant pandas from China Funi 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 in breeding captive pandas.

Zoo CEO Chris West said the animals have adapted easily to Australian bamboo -- they each eat 88 pounds (40 kilograms) a day -- and to their new enclosure. Because they are in quarantine for another two weeks, they will remain behind glass walls before being allowed into the outside area that includes bamboo plants and refrigerated rocks to keep them comfortable in Adelaide's hot summers.

The pandas are expected to generate more than  $600 million (Australian) for the South Australia state economy during their time here, with an anticipated 262,000 foreign visitors and 1.3 million Australians visiting Adelaide to see the animals.

The two pandas had been living at the Bifengxia Giant Panda Breeding Center in Ya'an City in southwestern Sichuan province, after the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center where they were living was destroyed in a massive earthquake last year.

Only about 1,600 of the animals live in the wild, while another 120 are in Chinese breeding facilities and zoos.

China uses payments from zoos that host loaned pandas to fund research and breeding programs. Under such loan agreements, any panda cubs born overseas to lent animals remain China's property.

-- Associated Press

Top photo: Giant panda Wang Wang samples bamboo in his new enclosure at the Adelaide Zoo on Dec. 13.  Credit: Brett Hartwig / Getty Images

Bottom photo: Giant panda Funi in her new enclosure at the Adelaide Zoo on Dec. 13.  Credit: Brett Hartwig / Getty Images

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