Giant panda twins celebrate birthday in Belgium

Giant panda twins Bao Di and Bao Mei enjoy their third birthday party at PairiDaiza zoo in Belgium on Saturday. - China Daily/ANN

BELGIUM, Aug 7 (China Daily/ANN): Giant panda twins Bao Di and Bao Mei walked toward their birthday cakes at the PairiDaiza zoo and botanical garden in Brugelette, Belgium, on sunny Saturday morning as keeper Liu Yang called them by names.

A crowd was waiting as the bears ambled around the cakes and ate them at their third birthday celebration.

The twins were born in the zoo on Aug 8, 2019, through artificial insemination with egg from Hao Hao and sperm from Xing Hui, a pair of giant pandas which arrived in the zoo in early 2014 from Southwest China's Sichuan province.

The twins' elder brother, Tian Bao, was born on June 2, 2016, also through artificial insemination from the same parents.

Eric Domb, president and founder of the privately owned PairiDaiza, said the birthday was "fantastic".

He said if someone had told him back in 1994 when he started the project that one day he would build a Chinese garden, have a pair of giant pandas, he would think that person was crazy and drunk.

"Now we have five giant pandas. Just unbelievable," Domb said.

"The lesson I learned from this is that pure love will bring more," he said, noting that in the beginning, he just wanted to build a Chinese garden to "show the beauty of China, natural beauty and cultural beauty".

PairiDaiza, located in Brugelette in southern Belgian province of Hainaut, is home to 7,000 animals on its 65ha territory.

Jean Pierre Degobert, a man in his 70s and wearing a cap decorated with various giant panda badges, is known by his nickname Papy Panda because he has been visiting the zoo every day for the past years.

He said he was "very happy" to come to the birthday celebration, adding that on Halloween, he would come wearing a giant panda costume.

Jerome Pouille, who works for the French Ministry of Ecology, came all the way from Toulouse, France, for the celebration.

"I've been in love with the pandas since childhood," he said.

Pouille worked as a keeper for three months in 2013 in the giant panda conservation base in Sichuan as panda ambassador, or Pambassador. He has been running a website with all the facts and information about the giant pandas.

Tommy Leclercq, governor of the Hainaut province, recalled the year 2014 when the first pair of giant pandas arrived at the zoo and then there was an inauguration ceremony during the visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan on March 30 that year, along with King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium and then-Belgian prime minister Elio Di Rupo.

"We have enjoyed a lot of pleasure having the giant pandas. The zoo has become an attraction for people in Belgium and surrounding regions, receiving influx of visitors every day," he said.

Cao Zhongming, the Chinese ambassador to Belgium, thanked the people at the PairiDaiza for taking good care of the giant pandas over the past eight years.

Calling himself a giant panda fan, Cao said Domb revealed to him that he hopes Tian Bao could live in nature when it goes back to China.

"Here I want to express my support for his wish," Cao said. Under a bilateral agreement, Tian Bao is expected to go back to China around the beginning of 2023 to join breeding and conservation programs.

The birthday celebration on Saturday included an event where children coloured panda figurines using their creativity and a photo exhibition of giant panda's hometown in Sichuan.

PairiDaiza will have another birthday celebration for the twins on Monday as keeper Liu Yang said twins deserve two parties.

Asked if the twins get along with each other, she said, "Occasionally they fight each other, but make up quickly," using the Chinese idiom that they never have "overnight feud".

"They are trilingual already," she joked, referring to the keepers who interact with the twins in French, English and Chinese, including Sichuan dialect.

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