Two giant pandas are scheduled to leave China for Malaysia on a Malaysia Airlines flight soon despite a public outcry over how the Southeast Asian nation’s government and state-owned airline have handled the disappearance of a plane with 154 Chinese citizens on board last month.
MASkargo, the airliner's cargo carrier, will fly pandas Fengyi and Fuwa to the country’s capital Kuala Lumpur sometime in mid-April on board a cargo aircraft, Muhammad Aniz Mohd Azmi, a spokesman for the airline, told the South China Morning Post.
While the airliners could not confirm the exact date of the delivery, a spokesman for Malaysia's Minister of Natural Resources and Environment G. Palanivel said it was scheduled for the night of April 15. The pandas are expected to arrive in their early hours of April 16.
The delivery of the ursine couple will comes five weeks after Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 vanished in mid-flight on route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Chinese media have criticised the Malaysian government and airline over their handling of the drama. Family members of the passengers, mostly Chinese citizens, are still waiting for answers from the state-owned airline on the whereabouts of their loved ones.
On March 23, another Malaysian Airlines aircraft en route to the South Korean capital Seoul had to make an unscheduled landing in Hong Kong after an electrical generator failed.
“Take care, pandas!” one microblogger wrote, reacting to reports of the imminent delivery. “Have they asked the pandas for consent?” wondered another.
China loaned the two giant pandas to Malaysia for ten years to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries in a deal signed in 2012.
The arrival of the pandas is also expected to soothe some frayed nerves in the Southeast Asian country, as Malaysian media and government officials grow increasingly impatient with fierce criticism and sometimes lurid accusations from Chinese family members of MH370 passengers.
Malaysia has gone to great lengths to make their arrival as comfortable as possible. The Zoo Negara in Selangor on the capital’s outskirts has invested 25 million ringgit (HK$59.4 million) on a panda complex mimicking their natural habitat in Sichuan province. Eight staff will take care of the two animals, local media reports said.
Two bamboo fields totalling 160,000 square metres will provide a steady supply of food to the Southeast Asian nation’s first pandas, the Star reported.
A staffer with the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda in Chengdu, which is currently responsible for the two pandas, told the Post that they have yet to be notified of a departure date.
A member of staff with the Malaysian authorities handling the transfer, who was not allowed to speak on record, said they did not expect the panda’s delivery to be affected by the MH370 crisis.
A spokesman for China’s State Forestry Administration, which oversees panda loans, declined to comment on Wednesday.