News of plans to bring a pair of giant pandas to Hong Kong, one of which would be Jia Jia, who was put to sleep at Ocean Park last week, broke in the South China Morning Post on August 18, 1995.
“Two large furry creatures have succeeded where Chris Patten and the British government have failed – finally getting China to pander to Hong Kong,” ran the report under the headline: “Panda diplomacy to hit territory in 1997”.
It was August 18, 1998 before Ocean Park confirmed that internal studies had concluded it had an “excellent venue for display”; animal welfare groups, though, demurred, EarthCare spokesman Dr John Wedderburn saying: “These are mountain animals which China describes as a national treasure – but making them come here for exhibition is a poor use of a national treasure.”
On August 19, 1998, the Post reported, “The two pandas, An An, a 13-year-old male, and Jia Jia, a 20-year-old female, will be held in a special 2,000 square-metre enclosure at Ocean Park,” a follow-up story on September 10 noting that an $80 million enclosure had “been designed by Hong Kong architect Dr Tao Ho ... owner of 14 cats, who brought both his knowledge about structures and his love of animals to the project.”
The pandas arrived in Hong Kong on March 11, 1999, but on April 23, a headline in the Post ran: “Public debut of pandas put on hold”, the story continuing, “Giant Pandas An An and Jia Jia refuse to face the public or even each other, forcing Ocean Park to extend their quarantine to the end of their mating season next month.”
The public finally glimpsed the pandas on May 18, the following day’s newspaper reporting: “The expected rush to see An An and Jia Jia failed to materialise at Ocean Park yesterday. Only a handful of people queued for two hours before opening time to be the first paying visitors to see the pair.
“Cerian Morris, who took her two-year-old son Cameron, said: ‘We’ve been really excited about this.’
“Cameron said: ‘I want to cuddle them, but they might bite.’”