Pandas making babies - that's the 'KPI'

The upcoming River Safari attraction yesterday welcomed two "beary" special additions, with the arrival of giant pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia from Chengdu, China.

Kai Kai is male and turns five next Friday, while Jia Jia is a four-year-old female.

The pair - on a 10-year loan from the Chinese government to mark 20 years of close ties between Singapore and China - were on board a Singapore Airlines Boeing 747 cargo freighter that touched down at 8.20am at Changi Airport's JetQuay CIP (Commercially Important Persons) terminal.

Once unloaded, parts of the covers for the pandas' custommade crates were lifted to reveal the pair, which appeared sprightly despite the almost five-hour flight.

They poked their noses between the crates' metal bars and gazed at photographers as they faced a welcome party of about 100 people. The group included Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck, who posed for photos.

Mr Teo said that having the pandas mate is a KPI, or key performance indicator. But, like Singapore's "challenges when it comes to procreation", such things cannot be controlled. He added that "it's more important to make sure they live comfortably and well in Singapore".

The pandas were then transported in a temperature-controlled truck to their new home - the River Safari's Giant Panda Forest, a 1,500 sq m enclosure costing $8.6 million.

They were welcomed by almost 1,000 guests and staff of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS).

The two pandas will be quarantined in a den for a month before being released into the enclosure for them to get used to it. The public will be able to view the two by December, even though the River Safari opens officially next year.

WRS chairman Claire Chiang told reporters on the sidelines of the welcome ceremony at the airport that the pandas have been warming up to their Singaporean carers.

They include the River Safari's assistant director of zoology, Mr Ang Cheng Chye, who has spent time in China with the animals.

"Just yesterday, Kai Kai was lying on the ground quite lazily. When (Mr Ang) called, he got up and went to him... He recognised his voice," she said.

She added that just as is done in their China home, the pandas will likely undergo medical examinations on the fifth, 15th and 25th of each month, to monitor their health and behaviour.

As for the possibility of the "celebrity couple" mating, Ms Chiang said she is hopeful.

She said an environment that would help their love affair to blossom would have to be created, adding: "We can't direct nature (but) we can ...facilitate the best environment for them."

Get my paper for more stories.

Become a fan on Facebook