Panda in the luggage hold

Panda in the luggage hold

The panda born in Thailand who won superstar status with her own TV channel and sent Chiang Mai Zoo admission numbers sky-high - is going "home" to China for a while to find a mate. Dampening what should be a fond farewell-for-now, though, acrimony has arisen over the means of her transport to a land she's never known.

Pandas are famously cute, and arranging the loan of two of them from China was a coup for Thailand.

They instantly became a new tourist attraction and, with the birth of Lin Ping on May 27, 2009, the country went crazy. The cub was constantly in the news, fan clubs sprang up, and the Zoological Park Organisation of Thailand was hard-pressed to keep up with the demands that the excitement generated.

Now the organisation is under siege again as fans protest its plan to freight Lin Ping to China a week from Saturday in the cargo hold of a Thai Airways passenger jet. Surely there's a better way to transport an animal that's so sensitive to noise and smells, they say, and surely Lin Ping deserves better treatment.

The zoo agency has chartered a flight for 300 human passengers - zoo staff, politicians and other invited guests - that will cost Bt5.5 million (S$221 000), plus Bt4.5 million for "operating expenses". Lin Ping's cage will be stowed beneath the passenger cabin and she'll be alone during take-off and landing. She's currently being familiarised with the cage and the sort of noise that's common on aircraft.

In a fury on the social media, fans have demanded that the organisation instead transport Lin Ping via the free FedEx Panda Express, which uses a cage that was specially designed for giant pandas. They even contacted the Bangkok FedEx office and claimed it could be ready in two weeks.

She could also ride instead on a THAI cargo plane so that her handlers could be at her side for the entire two-and-a-half-hour flight, the fans noted.

But Dr Boripat Siriaroonrat, the agency's assistant director and the veterinarian responsible for Lin Ping's birth by artificial insemination, says FedEx told the organisation it needed months to prepare. And a cargo plane would be significantly more expensive because it often carries chemicals and would have to be thoroughly decontaminated.

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