PETALING JAYA: It was two hours later than planned, but the historic arrival of two giant pandas from Chengdu saw much excitement – and some chaos – at MASkargo in Sepang here.
The flight landed at exactly 8am – it had been scheduled for 6am – and Fu Wa and Feng Yi were accorded VIP treatment as they finally arrived in Malaysia, their home for the next 10 years.
According to officials from the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, security checks at Chengdu Airport had taken longer than expected, causing the delay.
As soon as the A330 freighter carrying the pandas touched down here, a water cannon salute was initiated by Malaysia Airport Holding Bhd (MAHB).
Receiving the pandas at the airside area were Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri G. Palanivel and China’s ambassador to Malaysia Huang Huikang.
Media personnel had been waiting at the facility’s animal hotel as early as 4am as the arrival had earlier been scheduled at 6am.
The situation turned chaotic when MASkargo officials proceeded to load the pandas into the trucks which would take them to Zoo Negara without allowing the media any photos of the animals.
By then, the weather had become very hot and the panda handlers said they wanted to immediately send the animals to their air-conditioned facility at the zoo.
Officials finally relented, giving the media a five-second glimpse at one panda, Feng Yi, before whisking both away.
On June 15, 2012, the Malaysian and Chinese governments clinched a deal for Feng Yi and Fu Wa to be loaned to Malaysia for 10 years to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries this year.
Earlier yesterday, Huang said he hoped the Malaysian people, especially children, would spend time with pandas Fu Wa and Feng Yi.
Commenting on the flight delay, Huang said it was because the animals wanted to see Kuala Lumpur “in the daylight”.
“They didn’t want their 10-year stay in KL to begin in the dark,” he quipped during an early morning press conference at the Animal Hotel before the arrival of the pandas.
Fu Wa and Feng Yi, from the Bifengxia panda base in Ya’an, China, will be quarantined for a month for them to familiarise themselves with the Malaysian climate and their surroundings before the enclosure in Zoo Negara is opened to the public.
Pandas have become important diplomatic symbols, not only to China but also to their recipient countries as their loan is often interpreted as an exchange for trade and investment deals.
Overall, 43 giant pandas now live in 17 zoos across 12 countries.