Cautiously at first and then with mounting curiosity, two giant pandas stepped outside into their new open-air enclosure at a Dutch zoo on Tuesday, met by a barrage of cameras and squeals of delight.
Female Wu Wen (Beautiful Powerful Cloud) and her male companion Xing Ya (Elegant Star) were making their public debut, marking the culmination of a 16-year dream for the zoo and Dutch officials.
The pair are now going on show at Ouwehands Dierenpark zoo in central Rhenen, housed in an imposing, pagoda-style enclosure specially built at a cost of seven million euros ($7.4 million).
They arrived in The Netherlands on April 13, after an 8,000-kilometre (5,000-mile) journey from China and after years of negotiations in what has been dubbed “panda diplomacy”.
But despite mounting panda-mania here the two pandas were first given a few weeks of quarantine and a chance to acclimatise to their new surroundings before going on show.
In the wild, pandas are solitary creatures and the pair are being housed separately and will be brought together when the female is on heat.
They will stay in the zoo for some 15 years, and the hope is that they will breed and help replenish global panda numbers.
While pandas remain endangered, conservation work and an increased awareness of their plight has led to a rise in numbers.
Some 1,864 pandas remain in the wild in China, an increase from around 1,000 in the late 1970s, according to the environmental group WWF.
And just over 400 pandas live in zoos around the world, in conservation projects set up with Beijing.
Zoo owner Marcel Boekhoorn said Wu Wen and Xing Ya were more than “just two impressive giants.”
“Xing Ya and Wu Wen show us the power…