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© Neena Bhandari, Indo Asian News Service

ImageSydney, Sep 6 (IANS) Two giant pandas are all set to become the new symbol of Australia-China friendship as a pair of the endangered animal will be travelling from China for the first time across the equator to Australia to make the Adelaide Zoo their new home.

Emphasising the importance of China-Australia bilateral relationship, Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is here to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, said: "I believe that this will certainly become a new symbol of our friendship."

"The pandas will be here for cooperative research with the Chinese side. I would like to stress here that this is the first time a pair of China's giant pandas will ever settle in Australia, to be more specific in the southern hemisphere," the Chinese President said.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard and President Hu signed an agreement Thursday on getting the pandas early next year on a 10-year loan from the Chinese government.

"For all the differences we have, we have a lot of bonds. There is no doubt the pandas will mean a lot to an awful lot of Australians who are animal lovers," said Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who was instrumental in brokering the deal.
Away from the unprecedented security in Sydney, in his hometown of Adelaide, when told that pandas only have a receptive mating period of about four days a year, a relaxed Downer said, "Glad I wasn't born a panda."

Pandas usually mate between March and May and give birth five months later but rarely reproduce more than once every two years. Efforts to breed pandas have been slow, with females normally only raising one cub at a time because they need undivided attention and care, according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature.

The one-year-old female, Funi, and the two-year-old male, Wangwang, have not been introduced to each other yet. Habitat destruction is threatening the fewer than 1,600 pandas that survive in the wild today. The two pandas are part of the captive breeding efforts to save the pandas from extinction.

Only 12 zoos around the world, none in the southern hemisphere, have giant pandas. Wangwang and Funi were born at the Wolong Nature Reserve in Sichuan province in western China, which is home to one of the country's biggest breeding programmes.
The Adelaide zoo would mirror its programme on the world-renowned San Diego Zoo in the United States. A new enclosure has been built for the pandas and up to five species of bamboo would be grown in a 14-hectare plantation to feed the pandas.

Notoriously fussy eaters, they consume massive amounts of bamboo - about 70 kg a day - but only eat a small number of varieties of the plant.

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