'Adoptive mother' awaits her panda 'daughter'

'Adoptive mother' awaits her panda 'daughter'
Chin interacting with Feng Yi during her visit to the panda base in September 2007.

The two giant pandas from China will be arriving in Kuala Lumpur, close to the 40th anniversary of the Joint Communique on May 31, 1974 which marked the beginning of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and China.

While Malaysians are eagerly waiting to get to know Feng Yi and Fu Wa, there is one Malaysian who has been acquainted with the duo for years.

What's more, she is the "adoptive mother" of Feng Yi, the female panda, through a Colorado-based non-profit organisation known as Pandas International.

Chin Chet Mooi, 55, referred to Feng Yi tenderly as her daughter on her blog (mypandas.org), where she monitored the progress of the panda loan closely.

From her posts, one could tell she has a deep affection for the cuddly and adorable creatures.

"My fascination with pandas began as my response to the millennium challenge. We were coming up to a new millennium (Year 2000) and I found myself wanting to do something to commemorate the milestone.

"I decided to choose a topic of interest and spend the next 12 months learning all I can about it, and three things happened around the same time that pointed me to my subject," she said in an email.

The three things were a Reader's Digest cover story on China's panda biologist Prof Pan Wenshi, an Animal Planet documentary on a panda reserve in China, and the debut of a panda cub, Hua Mei, at the San Diego Zoo.

They offered Chin a glimpse into giant panda conservation and prompted her to read up more on pandas.

When Chin chanced upon Pandas International (www.pandasinternational.org) on the Internet, she was drawn to its volunteer programme where members could work alongside keepers to look after the giant pandas at the Wolong Panda Centre in Sichuan, China.

"I finally realised my dream in September 2007. Prior to the visit, I'd watched two other documents about Wolong so by the time I set foot in the panda base, I really had the feeling of coming home.

"I'd initially planned to visit just this once, but as soon as I stepped inside, I made myself a promise to visit again at least once a year from then on," Chin, a freelance proof-editor, said.

It was also during this visit that Chin met Feng Yi for the first time.

"In August 2006, a panda cub was born in Wolong with a harelip. It was the first such birth. As soon as I saw a photo of the little face, I told myself I wanted to adopt the cub.

"I wrote to Pandas International founder director Suzanne Braden to express my intention, and Wolong gave its permission for the adoption. However, the little cub, a male, died later due to multiple health issues.

"But Suzanne asked if I'd like to transfer my adoption to the cub's twin sister. Without hesitation, I said yes," Chin recalled.

The adoption is a shared adoption (the other two choices are individual adoption and lifetime adoption), which currently cost US$1,000 (S$1,248) for new adoption and US$800 for renewals.

Chin continued to visit Feng Yi at least once a year, not only in Sichuan but also in Beijing and Guilin in Guangxi, where Feng Yi was sent on stints.

Chin's devotion to Feng Yi is evident through her visits; last year, Chin saw Feng Yi a total of four times.

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