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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Panda-monium at the Taipei Zoo

The Taipei Zoo is already the largest zoo in Asia, but Monday it got an attendance boost when 100,000 people came to see the debut of two giant panda bears that China gave to Taiwan as a symbol of friendship.

The four-year-old pandas, Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan went on display Jan. 26, the first day of the Chinese New Year, following a 30-day quarantine. The Taipei Zoo expects the endangered animals to attract one million people per year, but only 22,000 visitors are allowed to see the pandas each day--for only 10 minutes.

We got our ticket to see the pandas at the front gate, which gave us the time we were allowed to enter the Panda House. All around us, vendors were selling all sorts of panda accessory items. By far, the most popular souvenir was the furry panda hat, which not only commemorated the event, but kept heads warm and dry since the weather was not cooperating.

When we finally did get our chance to enter the Panda house, the building was jammed with media professionals and onlookers. The line went rather fast, but the consequence was not being able to stop, even briefly, in front of the pandas. From what I did see, though, was the animals seemed oblivious to all the chaos around them. They were playing, each one trying to knock the other off a large tree trunk hovering five feet off the ground.

As we exited, two-year-old Mia Wu was interviewed by TTV--if you want to call it an interview. All of a sudden, a microphone was in her face, and the cameraman was shooting, while the interviewer was saying "Hello. Hello. What did you see?" Mia was just a little taken aback, but she finally responded to the question, "What's that?" as the woman pointed to the clip on panda coin purse attached to Mia's jacket.

"That's how the media is here in Taiwan," Mia's mother, Marci told me. "They can be really pushy."

We wandered through some of the zoo's other exhibits and saw lots of other animals. It left quite an impression on Mia, who woke up the next morning saying, "Elephant, panda, giraffe..."

Oh my!

If you want to see a panda closer to home, only four U.S. zoos have them--Atlanta, Memphis, San Diego and Washington, D.C.

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