Pandas welcomed with squeals
Wed, Feb 23, 2011
The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network

Little children squealed with excitement Tuesday in front of the compound where two giant pandas will live at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo. The animals arrived by truck late Monday night on the final leg of a journey from China.

The 5-year-old pandas--a male bearing the Chinese name Bili and a female called Xiannu--are scheduled to be put on public display late next month, the first time visitors to the zoo will see a giant panda since Ling Ling died in April 2008.

Zoo Director Teruyuki Komiya expressed hope at a press conference shortly after their arrival that they would prove fertile. "If they mate, perhaps there will be twin cubs as early as around June or July next year," he said.

According to the zoo, Bili was apparently confused by his new environment, wandering around restlessly inside the compound. By contrast, Xiannu slept like a log after eating more than 10 kilograms of bamboo.

On Tuesday morning, about 30 visitors waited in line for the zoo's gate to open at 9:30 a.m., some apparently failing to realize the pandas were not yet on public view.

The staff in charge of admission tickets were startled by the already-high expectations even before the pandas made an appearance.

As the gate opened, several hundred kindergartners and families with small children streamed into the zoo, with many taking photos of the panda house, now being refurbished before the animals' first public appearance in about a month's time.

"I came here to take a look at the panda house before I bring my 5-month-old grandchild. I want to see them together soon," said Minoru Kachi, 68, a company employee from Konosu, Saitama Prefecture.

Masaya Mihara, 6, who came to the zoo together with his classmates from a kindergarten in Ota Ward, Tokyo, said, "I want to watch them sleeping or eating bamboo soon."

Expectations were high in a shopping district nearby. "As they [the pandas] will go public in the cherry blossom season, Ueno will become a bustling area again," Yuji Kimura, 56, a general store operator, said gleefully.

Kimura, who was helping out at his parents' bookstore when Japan's first pair of giant pandas arrived at Ueno Zoo in 1972, was moved by the long lines of visitors waiting to enter the zoo back then.

Recently, however, he felt sad that the number of visitors to the zoo has declined, while the Tokyo Sky Tree tower, now under construction in Sumida Ward, has become increasingly popular.

With more than 20 types of panda goods, including umbrellas and bags, available at his store, Kimura is waiting anxiously for the pandas to go on public display.

SGRS Tourism Agency Inc., a tourism agency that runs a free bus decorated with a picture of panda on its front, will add one more bus from next month. The agency will run its bus along a new route, past Ueno Zoo and Tokyo Sky Tree, in the hope that tourists make use of it.

Osamu Ogame, head of the agency's operations division, said: "It's wonderful that the pandas arrived safely. We'd like to revitalize the area and visitors' spirits with our panda buses."

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