Superstars Ying Ying and Le Le make their Hong Kong debut

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 July, 2007, 12:00am

It was like a superstar's debut when giant pandas Le Le and Ying Ying, gifts from the central government to Hong Kong, met the public for the first time.

More than 20,000 people yesterday visited the renovated panda habitat at Ocean Park where the two cubs live with An An and Jia Jia, Hong Kong's first pair of pandas, in three separate activity zones.

The two 22-month-old panda cubs underwent a two-month quarantine period after arriving from Sichuan province at the end of April.

Shy in front of the crowds, the pair preferred to keep a distance from their visitors at the beginning. However, they soon became more relaxed, and tempted by apples offered by their keepers, came down from the branches to enjoy breakfast.

Camera shutters clicked all day whether the duo were eating, playing or sleeping.

The park estimated that 4,000 people had lined up to see the cubs by about 10am, a half-hour after the park opened.

Mak King-sing, his wife and their two daughters were the lucky first family to see the pandas.

'We came as early as 8.30am,' said Mr Mak. 'But the long wait was worthwhile when we saw the two lovely young pandas.'

Mr Mak's daughter, Mak Ho-yi, said she fell in love with Ying Ying immediately, while watching the cub chew bamboo.

'She is more interesting than Le Le, I think,' said the eight-year-old. 'Le Le is always sleeping.'

Away from the habitat, enthusiasm towards the pandas could also be seen in the park's souvenir shops, where visitors snapped up panda-shaped or patterned toys, hats, T-shirts and jewellery.

Cheung Chi-ho said he spent more than HK$1,500 on panda cups and limited-edition pictures.

'I heard the park will use the money earned from souvenirs to run an animal conservation fund. I feel good about contributing,' he said.

The 35-year-old, who works for an environmental group, also praised the renovated habitat, saying it was easier to see the pandas.

'But many people used flashlights when taking pictures of the animals, which is forbidden.

'I can understand that people can't curb their excitement, but they should still respect the pandas, as well as the rules.'

Ocean Park brought in several crowd-control measures for the panda's first public appearance, including setting up education and entertainment facilities near queues, extending opening hours and increasing the frequency of shuttle buses.

Chairman Allan Zeman said the park could cater for 35,000 people a day and would consider suspending ticket sales in case of overcrowding.

'We haven't experienced this before. We will monitor how things are going over the next few days and adopt appropriate measures to ensure everyone can have a good time here,' he said.