Tokyo zoo pandas head back home to China, visitors flock for last glimpsetext_fields
Tokyo: Four pandas lodged in the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo are set to return home to China this week. Thousands of Japanese people visited the zoo on Sunday to catch the last glimpse of the popular animals and say goodbye. Some even shed tears.
China loans out pandas as part of a "panda diplomacy" programme to foster foreign ties. There are only around 1,860 giant pandas left in the world and most of them are in the bamboo forests in the Chinese mountains. Around 600 of them are in captivity in panda centres, zoos, and wildlife parks.
The most popular one in the group is a female panda named Xiang Xiang. She is the zoo's first baby panda since 1988. The number of visitors for her was limited to 2,600 and they were chosen through a lucky lottery ticket. However, some fans who did not win a ticket also came. One of the fans, Mari Asai told the Asahi Shimbun daily that they wanted to breathe the same air as Xiang Xiang. "Even if I cannot see her, my heart is filled with joy knowing she's there."
Another visitor told the media, while crying, that she wanted to be closer to the five-year-old panda and everything about the animal is "adorable, whether sleeping or awake." A zoo official said their office has been receiving calls and emails every day from fans asking to not return Xiang Xiang.
The panda was supposed to go to China in 2021 but travel restrictions related to the pandemic interfered with the plan.
The other three pandas are in the Wakayama region. One of them is Eimei, who became the world's oldest to father a baby panda in 2020 at the age of 28. His twin daughters are also in the same zoo. A visitor in her 70s told public broadcaster NHK that she is sad the pandas are going back to China. "Everyone is so cute I almost cried."