Third birthday for Le Le and Ying Ying - now Hong Kong waits for a birth day

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 August, 2008, 12:00am

Ocean Park is keeping its fingers crossed for giant pandas Le Le and Ying Ying to produce Hong Kong's first panda cub after the pair reach sexual maturity next year.

'Pandas become sexually active at four to five years old. Hopefully, they will have a baby soon,' said Ocean Park chairman Allan Zeman at a birthday event held for the furry pair, who turn three this month. '[I'm] praying every morning!'

Mr Zeman said the park would work closely with experts from Chengdu and the United States to ensure a fruitful coupling.

The pair will be moved from their existing home at the panda reserve to a new attraction by late 2009 to encourage mating, Ocean Park public affairs manager Christine Lau Wai-king said.

The Amazing Asian Animals attraction, the new home of Le Le and Ying Ying, is part of the park's HK$5.5 billion expansion that will feature other exotic Southeast Asian creatures such as red pandas, salamanders and Chinese alligators.

The three-year-old pandas live with seniors An An, 22, and Jia Jia, 30. Jia Jia is now the fourth-oldest panda in the world, Mr Zeman said.

The pandas received a birthday serenade from the Hong Kong Treble Choirs Association and a 30-metre hand-printed card. They were also treated to a three-tier iced birthday cake of their favourite foods, which they devoured within minutes.

The birthday celebrations went hand in hand with a fresh wave of Sichuan earthquake relief efforts, which were launched last month.

Donation boxes will be placed around the park from today until August 31 for the public to contribute to the park's Giant Panda Base Rebuilding Fund, set up to aid the 1,000 affected pandas in the province's devastated reserves.

The most generous donor will win a trip for four to the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding.

The park will be also co-operating with the Hong Kong government in restoring 12 of the reserves that were hardest-hit in the devastating earthquake.

Work is expected to be completed within next year, starting with the rebuilding of wrecked roads leading to the Wolong Giant Panda Nature Reserve in Sichuan.

'It's the best gift I can think of for the pandas,' Mr Zeman said.