Public will get chance to name panda cubs
Details of the process and animals' trail to HK will be posted on website
Hong Kong people will get to name the two pandas coming to the city to mark the 10th anniversary of the handover.
Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan had a close encounter yesterday with a pool of 15 cubs, all born in 2005, on a visit to the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda in Wolong, Sichuan province .
'Hong Kong people are excited about the arrival of the two new guests and they will also be very interested in joining the naming campaign,' Mr Hui said.
He did not specify how the process would work, but stressed 'it will ensure the participation of every Hong Kong citizen if they so wish. Details will be announced later'.
An An and Jia Jia, the pandas now in Ocean Park, had already been named when they arrived in March 1999.
Last year, Beijing offered to send a pair of pandas to Taiwan. The plan fell through and the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office named them Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan after a worldwide call for suggestions. Tuan Yuan means 'reunion'.
The Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who accompanied Mr Hui, said the government would post information on the naming process on a website that would let the public trace the pandas' trail to Hong Kong.
'If you ask whether the naming activity will come with a prize, I would think that Hong Kong people would take part in it even though no award is offered,' she said.
After the Wolong reserve has selected the pandas, Ocean Park - which will host the new guests together with An An and Jia Jia - will send technicians to learn how to take care of the cubs.
They would be sent to Hong Kong on a chartered flight, in late April or May, Mrs Lam said.
Mr Hui said: 'I hope they will have their first public appearance on July 1.'
The conditions of the 15 pandas will be assessed by mainland experts against a list of criteria to determine if they are suitable.
Zhao Xuemin , deputy director of the State Forestry Administration, said the criteria included all requests proposed by Hong Kong.
'First of all, the candidates must be born in 2005 so they will be about four years old in 2008 when they reach sexual maturity and are ready to deliver babies.'
Ocean Park hopes the pandas will produce the first cub to be born in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, he added, they must be healthy and friendly and without gene defects.
Giant pandas, an endangered species native to central and southern China, are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity because of a low fertility rate, low survival rate for cubs and difficulties in breeding.
The Wolong centre is the largest breeding and research site for giant pandas in the world. It has 119 pandas, 60 per cent of all breeding pandas in captivity worldwide.