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Giant panda Yuan Meng arrives in Sichuan

By CHEN WEIHUA in Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-07-27 09:08

A customized cage carrying giant panda Yuan Meng is loaded onto a plane at the Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle Airport, near Paris, France, July 25, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

Yuan Meng, the 6-year-old male giant panda born in France, arrived at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Southwest China's Sichuan province on Wednesday morning, his first trip to his ancestral country.

On Tuesday, people waved goodbye as a truck transporting the giant panda left the Beauval Zoo in Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher, France.

Later in the afternoon, French first lady Brigitte Macron bade farewell to Yuan Meng at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris before the black and white bear took off on a 12-hour flight to join the panda breeding and conservation program in China.

As Yuan Meng's "godmother "since his birth on Aug 4, 2017, Macron visited the panda at Beauval Zoo in central France in May after hearing about the upcoming departure.

According to the international giant panda cooperation agreement, pandas born overseas have to be sent to China between ages 2 and 4, before they become sexually mature between ages 4 and 6. It is believed that sending them to China, where the species is native, will provide them with optimal conditions to give birth to a new generation of cubs. Yuan Meng was meant to come to China earlier, but his trip was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In France on Monday, throngs of people came for the "Last Breakfast" event organized by the zoo to visit the panda one last time.

Celine Gracia, her husband and two children came from Dijon, about 400 kilometers away, for the event.

"It's an amazing event because it's the last day here for the panda, and there is such a big crowd," Gracia said, as Yuan Meng frolicked in his courtyard and sat and ate bamboo.

Rodolphe Delord, president and CEO of the zoo, talked about the love that the French have for the bears.

"The public is passionate about giant pandas here in France, and I believe it's a global passion, so it's truly an incredible event," he said. "The conservation of the species is of utmost importance to us."

This photo taken on July 24, 2023 shows giant panda Yuan Meng at Beauval Zoo in Saint-Aignan, France. [Photo/Xinhua]

After Yuan Meng's departure, Beauval Zoo, which is ranked the fourth most beautiful zoo in the world by the online travel portal Trip Advisor, is now home to four giant pandas. Delord said he hopes another cub will be born soon.

"I believe having the giant pandas here will only strengthen the relationship between the two countries. Having them here also helps raise public awareness about endangered species," he said.

Lu Shaye, Chinese ambassador to France, agreed, saying that the giant pandas in France "symbolize the friendship between the two nations".

Lu, who visited the zoo in August 2019 on his first trip outside Paris shortly after assuming office, said he has mixed feelings about Yuan Meng's departure.

"Yuan Meng is leaving France, and I can understand the French people's unwillingness to say goodbye," he said. "I hope Yuan Meng will continue to be an envoy of friendship between the two countries and carry on spreading goodwill."

Jerome Pouille, who was the "Pambassador" working at the giant panda base in Sichuan in 2012, came to the zoo from Toulouse for the Monday event. He currently runs the website panda.fr, which is dedicated to spreading information about the giant panda around the world.

"It's always sad to say goodbye to a friend, but it's a very good thing for him to go to his ancestral land. He will live in the Chengdu panda base that I know very well.

"It is a green place in the suburbs of Chengdu with several natural enclosures. It has some of the best Chinese giant panda experts and keepers, and he will be well treated with plenty of bamboo," Pouille said.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

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