|Panda Gaogao to Get Married in the US|
The male panda Gaogao left southwest China's Sichuan Province for the San Diego Zoo Tuesday to marry "Baiyun," a female panda who has lived in the United States for the past six years.
The would-be couple is expected to live together for about six years.
Zhang Hemin, director of the Wolong Panda Research and Protection Center, told Xinhua that 11-year-old Gaogao was discovered in the wild near a Sichuan Province nature reserve about ten years ago. At that time, the young creature was weak, injured and appeared to have been recently separated from his mother.
Gaogao was sent to the Wolong Panda Research and Protection Center where he recovered quickly thanks to the excellent care he received.
As he grew, Gaogao became a popular TV star in China due to his good looks and tender personality.
The documentary "Back Home", which featured Gaogao in a prominent role, related the moving tale of the relationship between the panda and the employees at the Panda research center. His natural performance won nationwide acclaim.
His fiancee, Baiyun, also 11 years old this year, was transported to the US six years ago along with her ex-husband, Shishi, as part of a lease agreement signed between China and the United States.
The agreement, signed in September 1996, stipulated that the two pandas will live in the United States for 12 years so that China and the United States could initiate joint research on improving the birthrate of the endangered panda.
On Aug. 21, 1999, Baiyun and Shishi successfully produced their only 'baby', named Huamei, in the San Diego Zoo.
But the 26-year-old Shishi, already senile, had lost his fertility, and was therefore sent back to his hometown, the Wolong Panda Research and Protection Center in Sichuan, on Jan. 11 of this year. He will be given good care in the center during the remainder of his life.
Meanwhile, Gaogao was appointed as the successor of Shishi, becoming the 'second husband' of Baiyun.
Gaogao's flight has been well-prepared. Armed with several trunks of food and loads of fresh bamboo, Gaogao also has a special nurse who is a scientific researcher at the Wolong panda research center and will help Gaogao adapt to life in the United States as quickly as possible.
To welcome Gaogao, the San Diego Zoo has prepared his habitation and organized a grand welcome ceremony.
The first mating session of the newlyweds is expected this March, and if everything goes smoothly, they will produce a baby panda this fall.
With an average life span of 25 years, pandas become mature at four or five years of age. A mature panda couple is capable of producing a pregnancy once a year and can produce one or two baby pandas each time.
At present, the panda remains one of the most endangered species in the world, given its difficulties in pregnancy, in producing offspring and difficulties related to the survival of baby pandas.
Today, there are about 1,000 pandas alive in the world. Most inhabit the mountains surrounding the Sichuan Basin in southwest China, and about 120 of the total of 1,000 are artificially fed.
(Xinhua News Agency January 15, 2003)