Park hoping for the first HK-born cub
Celine Sun in the Aba autonomous region, Sichuan
Ocean Park hopes its new pandas will produce the first Hong Kong-born cub at the park. The new pair of young giant pandas are expected to be sent to the city in May as a gift to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the handover.
Two senior park officials arrived at the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda at the Wolong National Nature Reserve in Sichuan yesterday, one day before the visit of Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan today to discuss the selection process.
Ocean Park deputy chief executive Matthias Li Shing-chung said it was hoped the new pandas would be a lively and lovely couple that could bear a cub after they reach sexual maturity.
Hong Kong's resident pandas An An, 18, and Jia Jia, 26, have entered into their late years. The pair have lived in the city since March 1999.
Two years ago, the park sent An An's sperm sample to the research centre in Wolong for artificial insemination, but the experiment did not succeed.
Timothy Ng Sau-kin, director of zoological operations and education, said park staff were looking forward to learning more about panda-breeding techniques from the mainland research institutions after the new pair came to Hong Kong by the middle of this year.
'It would be ideal if the new residents can mate naturally' he said.
'Otherwise, we are likely to use artificial insemination methods to help them have cubs.'
Mr Ng added that Ocean Park was the first in the world to successfully reproduce captive dolphins by artificial insemination, which had given them confidence that they would have similar success with the pandas.
The park is renovating its panda house, adding a new outdoor exercise area for the newcomers.
A new panda house is to be built by the end of next year as a part of an Asian-animal themed exhibition area.
Mr Ng said the park was also seeking more bamboo suppliers in Guangdong, and he expected the new arrivals would double the present consumption rate at 420kg per week.
He also said the park had proposed to the mainland authorities that An An and Jia Jia be kept in Hong Kong, as they were too old to make the long trip back to the mainland.