Page last updated at 14:55 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

Japan to rent pandas from China

Pandas in Shanghai, China (file image)
All loaned pandas and cubs must eventually return to China

Giant pandas are to make a return to Tokyo's Ueno Zoo after the Japanese capital agreed to rent a pair from China for $1m (£640,000).

The money will be used to fund panda conservation projects and rebuild a sanctuary damaged in the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province.

Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara said the price was high but the city had managed to secure a $50,000 discount.

Ueon zoo's last giant panda, a male named Ling Ling, died in 2008.

Mr Ishihara said he had received "strong requests" from people around Japan who wanted to see pandas at the zoo again.

"Pandas are endangered and everyone loves them," Japan's Kyodo news agency quoted him as saying.

After Ling Ling's death from heart failure at the age of 22, people across the country sent gifts and condolence messages to the zoo.

Ling Ling's portrait was displayed inside his cage, along with offerings of his favourite bamboo shoots.

China often loans pandas to other countries as gestures of friendship and to take part in breeding programmes, but asks that all pandas and their offspring are eventually returned to China.

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