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Monday, April 11, 2011

Will coming to Britain put these notoriously unromantic pandas in the mood for love?


Instantly smitten: Simon Parry meets Sunshine

How do you get up close and personal with a giant panda who looks like a bruiser and has paws bigger than your face? The answer, of course, is dress to impress.

My panda hat cost me the equivalent of only £4 in a shop of tourist tat in Western China. But it seems to do the trick as I edge nervously towards the bars of the giant panda’s enclosure and start calling to him.

He ambles over insouciantly and, within seconds, Sunshine’s nose is wedged through the bars, a quizzical expression on his face. He sniffs at me from six inches away and I can smell his stale bamboo breath.

Bare-faced cheek: Sunshine looks quizzically at Simon's panda hat

I reach in to tickle his ears, which are silky-soft, and stroke his nose. He could sink his teeth into my arm or mutilate my hand with a swipe of one paw, but he playfully nuzzles the bars of the cage.
Am I smitten? Who wouldn’t be?

Chilling out: Seven-year-old Sunshine spends most of his time eating bamboo or sleeping

The eight-year-old giant panda is one half of a couple whose much-anticipated romantic union has been a hot topic among royals, politicians and diplomats for several months now — and who will become one of the most photographed and talked about in Britain.

But with fame comes responsibility — and when Sunshine and Sweetie arrive here from China in a few months, the pressure will be on for them to produce Britain’s first panda cub.

Taking the biscuit: Simon Parry gets up close to Yangguang, and ensures he varies his mainly-bamboo diet with a biscuit

The bears, whose Chinese names are Yangguang and Tian-Tian, have not been seen in public since the signing in January of a multi-million-pound deal to loan the pandas to Edinburgh Zoo for ten years.

During my visit, I had to wait three hours for him to wake up, after which he succumbed to my entreaties and swaggered over to nuzzle the bars of the cage.

Sweetie, meanwhile, appears unimpressed by her potential lover, and has an unnerving tendency to let out an ear-splitting wail when she isn’t happy.

He's bigger than you think: Sunshine spreads out in front of our cub reporter

Two's company: But Tian Tian - or Sweetie - appears unimpressed by her potential lover

What chance, then, of these two producing a cub? The odds are stacked against them.
Scientists have long been baffled by pandas’ apparent lack of interest in sex.

Females are fertile for just two or three days per year and when they do get pregnant, their tiny, blind babies often do not survive. Experts believe that there are now only 2,500 pandas left in the wild.

Look at me: Chinese tourists look at a baby panda up a tree

There is little doubt that Britain’s visiting panda couple will become a star attraction. Regardless of whether love strikes for Sunshine and Sweetie, it is unlikely that they will ever be short of admirers.

source: dailymail


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