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Singaporean fans bid farewell to panda

By TOH EE MING in Singapore | China Daily | Updated: 2023-12-22 08:59

Cultural Counselor of the Chinese embassy in Singapore Qin Wen (left) and Group CEO of Mandai Wildlife Group Mike Barclay take part in the River Wonders wildlife park's farewell event for giant panda Le Le in Singapore on Dec 13. CHINA DAILY

For the last four months, Lu Yi has been religiously visiting Singapore's River Wonders every weekend to watch giant panda cub Le Le for hours on end.

The 44-year-old loves observing Le Le munch on bamboo shoots, play with his mother and tumble down a slope. She and other panda enthusiasts often trade videos and photos of the panda, even going to the extent of custom-making panda T-shirts. Some of them also upload their videos on YouTube and TikTok.

"Watching Le Le helps me relieve stress. When I look at him, I feel very happy and relaxed," said Lu, who works in administrative support. "I'm very sad to see Le Le leave Singapore and will dearly miss him."

Lu was among 1,000 visitors who turned up on Dec 13 to bid farewell to the 2-year-old Le Le on his last day in his exhibit at the River Wonders park.

Le Le, the first panda born in the city-state, will be entering a monthlong quarantine to prepare for his departure to China on Jan 16.

Visitors started arriving as early as 8 am, two hours before River Wonders opened its doors.

Throughout the day, hundreds of panda fans and visitors thronged the exhibit, sporting panda T-shirts, hair clips, earrings and bags, while capturing Le Le on their mobile phones. They watched Le Le explore his enclosure, as he snacked on bamboo and carrot sticks that zookeepers had hidden under decorative paper planes and inside boxes resembling cardboard suitcases.

Le Le was born in 2021 via artificial insemination after his parents Jia Jia and Kai Kai failed to mate naturally. His parents arrived in Singapore in 2012 on loan from China. Under the arrangement, their offspring would be sent to China after reaching a certain age to join the country's giant panda conservation program.

At a farewell event, Mike Barclay, the group CEO at Mandai Wildlife Group which operates River Wonders, said the park was honored to be Le Le's custodian these last two years.

"Le Le has been a wonderful ambassador for his species, helping to raise awareness regarding the threats that giant pandas face in the wild, and allowing us to highlight the excellent work being undertaken in China to conserve his species," he said.

Sweet days recalled

Barclay fondly recalled the day when Mandai's veterinarian team said Jia Jia was pregnant, just five days before she gave birth on Aug 14,2021. A total of 1.8 million local and overseas visitors have visited Le Le since his birth.

The farewell event was graced by Qin Wen, a cultural counselor at the Chinese embassy in Singapore. Qin thanked Singapore for the love and care for Le Le and his family.

"I think that after Le Le goes to China, as far as I know, there will be another monthlong quarantine for him," she said. "So, if all goes well, he will meet the public around Chinese New Year."

Cheng Wen-Haur, Mandai's deputy chief executive and chief life sciences officer, said China's giant panda program is a great example of how the strengths of ex-situ and in-situ partners are leveraged.

"We are honored to contribute as a zoological institution, and we look forward to continuing this important work," Cheng said.

"We have watched our giant panda cub grow into the confident, inquisitive and independent bear that he is today. He is adored by all who have had the privilege of caring for him and we are excited to celebrate with him in his continuing role as an ambassador for his species. It is so heartening to see people of all walks of life coming together for Le Le, and cheering him on in the next chapter of his life."

His travel essentials include an in-flight meal consisting of up to 50 kilograms of bamboo, bamboo shoots, fruit, pellets and water.

To ensure his in-flight care and well-being, Le Le will be accompanied by a zookeeper and veterinarian from Mandai, as well as a zookeeper from China. After Le Le arrives in Chengdu, he will be transported to a quarantine facility in Huaying, a county-level city in Sichuan province.

For some panda fans, this is not a final goodbye. They intend to visit Le Le after his relocation to China.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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