Panda visit wows Obama family

Panda visit wows Obama family

CHENGDU, China - On the last day of a seven-day tour of China, US first lady Michelle Obama, her daughters and her mother were awestruck after visiting the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding on Wednesday.

Obama and her daughters, Malia and Sasha, and Obama's mother, Marian Robinson, made a stop of more than an hour at the research site in Sichuan province. They wore dark-coloured casual clothing on a moist but cool day.

During their visit to the scenic base, located in the northern suburbs of Chengdu, they gave out a collective "wow" as they watched a family of pandas eat their breakfast of bamboo.

Li Li, a 22-year-old female panda, was in an enclosure along with her five cubs. Not stopping their breakfast for their distinguished guests, they went on cracking and chewing bamboo.

Obama and her daughters were quiet as they observed the cubs, and then base chief Zhang Zhihe joined them and introduced the pandas' daily habits.

Robinson, wearing plastic gloves, also held out a long bamboo stalk that had a slice of apple at the end of it as the first lady stood attentively behind her.

"The base is a must for many first-time foreign visitors to Sichuan," said James Ayala, an American researcher of animal behaviour who has worked at the base for nearly two years.

Yuan Peng, an expert on US studies and vice-president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the visit allowed the "Chinese public to have a better chance of getting to know the US first family".

The US first lady's family outings during her trip intrigued the Chinese public and prompted positive responses, said Chen Mingming, China's former ambassador to New Zealand and Switzerland.

It was "a good choice for citizen diplomacy", Chen said.

Last December, a new panda at the Smithsonian's National Zoo became the first panda cub to be blessed by Obama and her Chinese counterpart Peng Liyuan. She was named Bao Bao.

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