Customised kitchen, lab for Malaysia's pandas

KUALA LUMPUR - Four rooms, a customised kitchen, clinic, laboratory, four veterinarians and six caretakers have been accorded the two giant pandas, which arrive in Malaysia from China today.

Zoo Negara deputy president Rosly Rahmat Ahmat Lana said a special quarantine area had been prepared to cater to the needs of Fu Wa and Feng Yi.

"Their activities and movements will be monitored 24 hours a day for security and safety purposes. The quarantine room will be the pandas' night quarters after a month of adapting to their new home once they are ready to be introduced to the public."

Rosly said the veterinarians comprised three Malaysians and one from China.

"All of our veterinarians and caretakers received intensive training in Chiangmai, Singapore and Chengdu in China. "They are well-prepared to look after the pandas and cater to their needs."

Rosly said he was confident that the pandas would breed in a span of 10 years.

"Fu Wa and Feng Yi will be monitored by the vets in terms of their mating season and hormones, as male and female pandas can only be together for 72 hours a year. If they do breed, Malaysia can only keep the cubs for two years, after which they will be returned to China."

The panda complex is the latest design and concept where animals and visitors can be in one room so that the latter can get a feel of the pandas' habitat.

Rosly said the panda enclosure would be opened to the public next month. "We expect a big crowd once the pandas are exhibited to the public. The complex will be opened from 9am to 5pm daily."

"If the response is overwhelming, we will extend closing time to 6pm. The panda complex is able to cater to 3,800 visitors a day. Every visitor is allowed to spend a maximum duration of 20 minutes in the enclosure as the place can only hold 120 patrons at one time."

He said they expected half a million visitors in the first year.

Ticket prices are RM20 (S$8) for adults, RM10 (S$4) for children and senior citizens, and free for the disabled. Forest Research Institute of Malaysia director-general Datuk Dr Abdul Latif Mohmod said a panda expert from China had checked on the suitability of local bamboo as food for the animals last year.

"The pandas were fed buluh madu, buluh galah and buluh pagar before coming to Malaysia. They can adapt to local bamboo and they also accepted the bamboo biscuits and bamboo cakes made from shoots, as well as carrots and apples."

Latif said the institute had planted these particular species of bamboo in the beginning of 2012. "More than six kinds of bamboo, including buluh betong, buluh siam and buluh botol, are suitable for pandas. All six varieties can be planted and found easily."

"However, Zoo Negara will still import Chinese bamboo if the pandas refuse to consume the local bamboo."