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Ocean Park

Hong Kong giant pandas Ying Ying and Le Le going from Ocean Park to mainland China to breed? Sichuan official raises possibility

  • Warmer weather contributing to mating difficulties in city
  • Pair could be sent to province next year for extended time
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 November, 2018, 6:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 November, 2018, 11:31pm

A mainland Chinese official on Thursday has opened the possibility of sending two giant pandas at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park back to Sichuan province for breeding next year after repeated failures locally.

Liu Hong-bao, director of Sichuan Forestry Department, explained the city’s warmer weather had contributed to the difficulties Ying Ying and Le Le were facing locally, aside from the fact the animal generally has a low reproductive rate.

He added the reproductive ability of captive pandas was about 26 per cent of that of wild pandas.

Liu revealed the idea of allowing the pair to mate in Wolong, Sichuan, and bringing them back to Hong Kong afterwards had previously been considered.

If the two have to leave, then we may need to communicate with the public
Liu Hong-bao, Sichuan Forestry Department

He did not rule out the possibility, noting the two could be sent to the province next year.

“We have no problem with this, but many in Hong Kong have strong feelings for Ying Ying and Le Le,” he said. “If the two have to leave, then we may need to communicate with the public.”

Liu said the breeding period for pandas usually spanned about 130 days and the pair would need to stay on the mainland at least a year.

“During that period, we could lend a pair of pandas for showcasing in Hong Kong,” he noted. “I don’t think this would be a big problem.”

Ying Ying and Le Le were presented to Hong Kong in 2007 as a gift from the central government to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule. Each panda is 13 years old.

Despite an extensive breeding programme set up for the pair, Ying Ying has been unable to conceive for the past three years, suffering two phantom pregnancies and, in 2015, a miscarriage.

Liu’s remarks came as Hong Kong held activities to mark the second “cooperation week” involving the city, Macau and Sichuan.

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At the opening ceremony of Ocean Park’s 2018 Sichuan Nature Conservation Week, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Sichuan Provincial Committee Secretary Peng Qing-hua recounted the exchanges between the city and province over the years.

Lam highlighted Hong Kong’s efforts in helping rebuild Wolong after a massive earthquake hit the province in 2008 that killed more than 80,000 people.

From Thursday to November 14, Ocean Park will hold activities highlighting achievements in giant panda conservation and promoting Sichuan culture.

It also co-launched the city’s first eco-tour to Wolong with China Travel Service (HK). Participants will be accompanied by the park’s panda education experts and have a chance to visit a restricted conservation area at Wolong National Nature Reserve.

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Those joining the tours can follow veteran forest keepers to explore the area in search of giant pandas in the wild and experience the daily tasks of a panda keeper.

Separately, the park’s chief executive, Matthias Li Sing-chung, said it recorded double-digit growth in the number of individual visitors from mainland China between October and early November compared with the same period last year. He said part of this surge could be attributed to Hong Kong’s new high-speed railway service, which opened in September.

With the opening last month of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the park would keep monitoring its visitor figures, Li added.