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Thursday, 14 June 2012

Pandas to soothe your nerves; Huge housing task; Are Malaysians creative naming them?

Pandas to soothe the nerves

As Malaysia rolls out the red carpet for the pandas, it is hoped that China’s panda diplomacy can also help ease political tension in the country.

ANYTHING about the Giant Pandas are a big hit and when it was announced by our Natural Resources and Environment Ministry on Monday that China had decided to loan two endangered baby pandas for a 10-year period, it made instant world news.

Pandas, from the bear family, are about the most easily recognised and loved animals in the world.
They evoke excitement from viewers who line up for hours outside the zoos from London to New York, Tokyo and Singapore, to get a glimpse of these furry and cuddly animals.

The baby pandas, about a year to three years old, are part of the loan system China has worked out since the early 1980s after concerns were raised over their loss of habitat, endangered status and the difficulty of breeding in captivity.

They are only loaned to countries that China has established strong and friendly relationship with or those that figure very highly on the list of countries deemed important to China.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had made the request when he met his counterpart Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in April when the two leaders opened the joint Malaysia China industrial park in Chengdu, Nanning.

The loan of the pandas, estimated to number about 1,600 in the wild and 268 in captivity, is an important gesture from China to Malaysia as well as commemorating the strong diplomatic ties between the two countries.

It is also to commemorate 40 years of relationship between China and Malaysia.

The political overtones are unmistakable.

Najib’s father Tun Abdul Razak made a path-breaking visit to communist China in 1974, shook hands with Mao Zedong and returned to call a snap election which the enlarged, new coalition Barisan Nasional won handsomely.

It was the first election after the May 13 riots in 1969 and the alienated Chinese community had backed Razak in the hope that the new Barisan Nasional he headed would usher in a new era in politics.

Forty years later, Najib is not hoping to win over the Chinese voters – most of whom are backing his political opponent Pakatan Rakyat – with his “panda diplomacy” with China but the successful arrival of the furry creatures is expected to definitively lighten the divisive atmosphere in the country.

Overall, Najib’s engagement with China and the continuing importance he is giving to China in trade, cultural and education matters will have a desirable effect on voters, including Chinese voters.

Having said that, pandas have always figured importantly in China’s diplomatic efforts.

The practice reportedly existed as far back as the Tang Dynasty when Empress Wu Zetian (625–705) sent a pair of pandas to the Japanese emperor but in modern times, “panda diplomacy” really took off after US President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China.

China gifted two pandas – Ling Ling and Xing Xing – following that visit and the pandas generated world headlines and a mad craze in America.

Millions of people lined up to see them in Washington and in one stroke, China scored an instant diplomatic victory.

Japan reportedly dispatched two military aircraft to guard “Lan Lan” and “Kang Kang” when they entered its airspace on arrival from China as part of the now fine-tuned “panda diplomacy”.

West Germany rolled out the red carpet for its pair of pandas in 1974.

In the years since, the rare pandas have become firmly established as an important piece of China’s modern day diplomacy – to break the ice, ease tension and promote goodwill.

But it is not all diplomacy with pandas.

They have to be kept in special enclosures being built at the wetlands park in Putrajaya.

Pandas do nothing but laze around and eat special bamboos shoots (about 20kg a day) – their favourite and only food, which has to be imported from China or specially planted here.

They have to be kept in special, fully air-conditioned enclosure with climate controlled at temperatures ranging between 18°C and 22°C and humidity controlled at 50% to 60% all year round.

Ambient conditions have to be adjusted to simulate the four seasons similar to their natural habitat in south-western China.

According to one estimate, the cost can run up to RM20mil but the returns in the form of gate collection, research and diplomacy, far outweighs the cost.

The reverse is also true. Any mishap will spark a diplomatic uproar and ruin relations as well.

On arrival, the pandas will be quarantined for a month and five more months for acclimatisation before they are opened for public viewing.

Malaysia, the third country in South-East Asia after Thailand and Singapore to get the pandas, will also get the chance to name the pandas in a nationwide contest.

Hopefully, the arrival of the pandas, celebrated for breaking the ice between nations and exciting people, will also ease the tensions and divide in our nation.


Huge task in housing pandas


PETALING JAYA: The arrival of the two pandas is exciting news but housing them here is no easy task and requires a big commitment, experts said.

For a start, the Wetlands Park in Putrajaya, which has been announced as the preferred location, would need to construct a proper indoor habitat for the two baby pandas which are of opposite genders.

The enclosure needs to be air-conditioned as the adorable but endangered mountainous animals are not used to living in a tropical climate.

“It must include a playground for the pandas to exercise and a den for them to sleep in. There must also be a back-up for the air-conditioning system as the pandas cannot wait for it to be repaired if the air-condition breaks down.

“It is better for a local keeper to head to China to be trained and be with the pandas for at least six months to study its habits, likes and dislikes before they are brought here,” experts said.

There must also be sufficient bamboo plants for them and it needs to be of a certain species.

A local team will head to China to study the bamboo species.

Chinese conservation experts are also here and will visit the site and outline strict specifications for the enclosure, sources said.

The park also needs to consider building a nursery and possibly an incubator for potential baby pandas since the two animals will be here for 10 years and may procreate.

China had agreed to loan the pandas to Malaysia for 10 years in recognition of the good bilateral ties and in conjunction with the countries' 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties.

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry announced the news of the pandas' arrival on Monday.

The Government will sign the agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) tomorrow.

Singapore, which is expected to receive two pandas later this year, is building a 1,500 sq m enclosure at its new River Safari park.

Wetlands International Malaysia senior technical officer Lee Shin Shin said the team in charge of the pandas' care should be properly trained and adequate allocation should be provided as it would be a long-term commitment.

She is however disappointed that huge amounts of money would be spent to bring the pandas over and said it could have been used for local conservation.

Her views were echoed by Malaysian Nature Society president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed who disagreed with bringing the pandas here and said priority should be given to conserving local endangered animals.

Malaysians are getting bear-y creative

PETALING JAYA: From the run-of-the-mill to the outlandish, Malaysians have been ringing The Star radio stations to suggest names for the giant pandas from China.

Fatimah and Abdullah, Duri and Riang, Satu and Malaysia, Teh and Tarik Malaysians are a bear-y creative lot!

The radio stations under The Star media group had invited listeners to suggest names for the lovable animals. They were inundated with colourful and cheeky responses.

         Amused: Yi Hui taking suggestions from listeners for names for the pandas.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak also received an enthusiastic response when he invited followers of his Ah Jib Gor on his Chinese Facebook page to suggest names for the pandas.

Najib's invitation drew 222 replies from the public as at 8.15pm yesterday.

Among the names suggested were Fufu and Yaya, Ali and Ahmad, Left and Right, Flower and Bing Bing, Salt and Spring and Nini and Lola.

At Red FM, deejay Lil Kev said many callers suggested the pandas be named after local heroes (Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat), famous couples (Romeo and Juliet), popular local food like Kaya and (roti) Tisu, Puttu and Mayam), and even after local politicians.

Athena Tan, better-known as DJ Yi Hui to listeners of 98.8FM, said many callers made references to popular Chinese phrases.

She said examples included Xing Xing and Fu Fu (from xingfu, the Cantonese word for happiness) and Sam Sam and Si Si (from sam si, meaning to think twice).

Yi Hui said she liked the sound Tuan Tuan and Puan Puan.

“I think that's really cute,” she said.

“Plus, it's a must-learn phrase for anyone coming to Malaysia.”

The loan is part of an agreement between the Malaysian Government and the China Wildlife Conservation Association to mark the 40th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between the two countries. The agreement will be signed tomorrow.

To celebrate the event and the arrival of the pandas, there will be a nationwide contest to name the animals.

Related Stories/Articles/posts:
Stronger ties through panda diplomacy
 Giant Pandas are coming to Malaysia
Giant Pandas are coming to Malaysia
Giant leap in relationship - Pandas World
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