Panda Bears Debut in South Korea

David Lee, April 12, 2016, 8:17 a.m.


A pair of Chinese panda bears that arrived in South Korea last month were unveiled to the public for the first time at an amusement park here Friday, as the city of Yongin hopes the animals will draw more tourists to the region.

The pandas, named Ai Bao and Le Bao, were shown to the public for the first time at Everland, the country’s largest amusement park in Gyeonggi Province, some 50 kilometers south of Seoul. They have been at the park since their arrival from the Chinese southwestern province of Sichuan on March 3. The bears are leased for 15 years as part of a research project on the endangered species conducted by both South Korea and China.

Two pandas spent more than a month getting acclimated to their new environment under the care of veterinarians from both countries before making a debut to a limited number of visitors selected through social networking services (SNSs) and other drawing events.

Everland said the pandas will be displayed for only three hours a day and to a small number of selected visitors until April 20, as it decided to have a test operation of its “Panda World.” The theme park with the zoo will officially open the place to the public on April 21.

Visitors said they were happy to see the pandas and were satisfied with how the animals were treated.

“I used to like pandas and even went to Japan to see them,” said 39-year-old Ji Hye-eun. “There is a lawn and they have enough space to move around, which is good for both the pandas and spectators.”

As part of its efforts to bring tourists to the region, Yongin on Thursday appointed the two pandas as its honorary ambassadors for tourism. The city government said that it will use panda characters in its major events to promote their campaigns and plans. It will give “special meals” to two-year-old female Ai Bao and three-year-old male Le Bao, rather than just bamboo, when the number of visitors to Everland increases by 100,000.

In 2014, President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed during Xi’s state visit to Seoul to lease the bears for joint research purposes. The animals are also considered to be a symbol of goodwill by Beijing for fostering bilateral relations, as China has a tradition of sending pandas to foreign countries as a sign of friendship. This act is also known as “panda diplomacy.”

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