Cubs charm VIPs in pandover ceremony ahead of today's public debut at park

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 July, 2007, 12:00am

They make their public debut this morning, but Le Le and Ying Ying, the giant panda pair given by the central government as a handover anniversary gift to Hong Kong, have already charmed a select audience.

The cubs looked in fine condition at a preview yesterday at Ocean Park for State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan and other VIPs. Ying Ying chewed happily on bamboo, while Le Le took a nap in a tree.

Since their arrival in April from their former home in Sichuan, the 22-month-old pair have been living in a 450 sq metre habitat next to An An and Jia Jia, Hong Kong's first pair of giant pandas.

Although the four have not met, they are aware of each other. 'They know each other through smells, and some of them are also doing scent markings as a kind of natural behaviour to protect their zones,' said Timothy Ng Sau-kin, director of zoological operations and education at the park.

He was happy that the pair had adapted to their home, with each gaining up to 10kg in the past two months. The male Le Le now weighs 75kg and the female Ying Ying 65kg.

And they have proved remarkably intelligent. 'They can understand our simple orders in Mandarin and Cantonese as well as in English,' Mr Ng said.

Speaking at the gift presentation ceremony, Mr Tang said the cubs carried the best wishes from people across the country and it was a happy occasion to see them settling in Hong Kong. 'I hope they can bring a more festive atmosphere and good luck to the city,' he said.

Other guests at the ceremony included Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan and the deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Chen Zuoer.

It went ahead despite strong winds followed by heavy rain, which at one point swept away a large plastic sheet from the temporary stage set up for the ceremony, exposing the media to the elements.

The public will be able to visit the four giant pandas from today in the park's panda habitat, which can hold up to 200 people at one time.

The park said visitors are likely to have to queue for two hours to see the new pair.

Ocean Park will also launch a series of panda-themed activities, such as an opportunity to have breakfast with the animals and a 'Panda Channel' to capture the live footage of the mammals through mobile phones and television screens.

Ocean Park chairman Allan Zeman expected many people would visit in the next few months. 'I am hoping everyone in Hong Kong comes at least once, because they are very special gifts for our city,' he said.