Japan asking China to loan more pandas

PHOTO: The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network

The Japanese government has asked the Chinese government to loan Japan more giant pandas, it has been learned.

Amid the growing popularity of the giant panda cub Xiang Xiang, who is on public view at Ueno Zoo in Taito Ward, Tokyo, the Japanese government hopes to realise the loan as soon as possible as a symbol of improved relations between Japan and China. There are about 520 giant pandas at zoos and facilities for breeding and research in China and other countries, excluding those in the wild, who live mainly in Sichuan Province. There are now nine pandas in Japan - three at Ueno Zoo; five at Adventure World in Shirahama, Wakayama Prefecture; and one at Kobe Municipal Oji Zoo in Kobe.

The Japanese government is considering Oji Zoo and Yagiyama Zoological Park in Sendai as possible breeding facilities for new pandas. Oji Zoo has only one female, Tan Tan, meaning they need a male for breeding. Yagiyama Zoological Park has petitioned for pandas, to cheer people up affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

When Foreign Minister Taro Kono met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing on Jan. 28, Kono asked Wang about borrowing the giant pandas. The Japanese government hopes to reach an agreement on a loan by the end of this year, which marks the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of the Peace and Friendship Treaty between Japan and China.

Giant pandas are extremely popular in each country for their cute appearance and rarity; they have become an important diplomatic tool for the Chinese government. China is likely to decide whether to loan more pandas after carefully examining developments in China-Japan relationships.

The international trading of giant pandas for commercial purposes is restricted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which aims to protect endangered animals. However, loans are allowed for breeding and research into its biology.

Shin Shin and Ri Ri - Xiang Xiang's mother and father - were borrowed from China in February 2011, and the Japanese side has paid a total of $950,000 (S$1.25 million) a year to have them. China has ownership of the giant panda cub born in Japan, too, meaning Xiang Xiang must go to China when she turns 2.Speech

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