Taipei Zoo's newest panda cub debuts to thousands of adoring fans

Animal-lovers start lining up at 5.30am at Taipei Zoo for public appearance of Yuan Zai, the first cub born into captivity in Taiwan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 January, 2014, 3:43pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 January, 2014, 1:41am

Nearly 10,000 people visited Taiwan's first native-born giant panda as she made her highly anticipated public debut yesterday.

The island has been gripped by panda fever since Yuan Zai's birth in July last year. She even beat the island's president, Ma Ying-jeou, in an online vote on the biggest news personalities of 2013.

Fans started lining up outside Taipei Zoo at 5.30am and within minutes of its opening at 9am, 1,200 people had queued outside the panda enclosure, zoo authorities said. Yuan Zai charmed the morning crowds of mostly parents and young children for 40 minutes, climbing a wooden structure then crawling over to her mother, Yuan Yuan, to be breastfed before falling asleep.

"Even though today is a Monday, the zoo is a sea of people," one Weibo user wrote at the attraction. "Yuan Zai's popularity in Taipei is so high that all of Taipei Zoo and even Taipei's streets, newspapers and websites are under her shadow."

A zoo spokeswoman said 9,563 people visited the park yesterday, compared with 2,000 to 3,000 on a normal weekday.

Sixteen companies have received authorisation to sell more than 30 items of Yuan Zai merchandise, including bank cards, laptops and phone cases. The city's department of economic development estimated the products could rake in NT$500 million (HK$128.8 million) within six months.

Even restaurants and hotels are cashing in on Yuan Zai, offering "panda packages" that include zoo tickets, souvenirs and panda-shaped desserts.

The panda hall, the main attraction at the zoo, currently handles a maximum of 19,200 visitors a day, but that figure will be raised to 24,000 during the Lunar New Year holiday starting on January 31. To cope with demand, the zoo has introduced a ticketing system whereby visitors must first pick up a ticket at the park entrance, then line up to see the pandas. Groups of 400 are allowed into the hall for a maximum of 10 minutes.

Yuan Zai was born by artificial insemination after Yuan Yuan failed to conceive naturally. The baby was raised in an incubator with round-the-clock care after her mother slightly injured her leg when trying to lick her.

Father Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan were given as gifts by Beijing in December 2008.

Watch: Behind the scenes with the panda cub