Page last updated at 01:46 GMT, Saturday, 6 February 2010

US-born pandas Tai Shan and Mei Lan arrive in China

One of two giant pandas arrives at the airport in Chengdu, southwest China"s Sichuan province, on February 5, 2010.
Chinese television has shown live footage of the pandas' arrival

Two pandas born in the US have arrived in China for the start of a new life.

A "Panda Express" plane carrying Mei Lan, three, and Tai Shan, four, landed in Chengdu, where the pair will join China's panda-breeding programme.

The pandas were born while the two sets of parents were on loan from China to US zoos. Loaned pandas and offspring must eventually return to China.

The pair will now undergo a period of acclimatisation to help them deal with the change of language and food.

Zoo-keepers have advertised for an English-Chinese translator to teach Mei Lan the Sichuan dialect so that she can understand basic commands.

In Chengdu, in Sichuan province, Mei Lan, from Zoo Atlanta, and Tai Shan, a male from Washington, will be weaned off their high-fibre US diet and will instead be fed steamed bread and bamboo shoots.


Since the days of the Cold War China has offered pandas on loan as goodwill gestures, giving rise to the term "panda diplomacy".

Tai Shan's parents will remain at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington until December, when they too will return to China at the end of their 10-year loan.

Animal keeper Nicole Meese, who held Tai Shan as a baby, travelled with the animals on the "Panda Express" to China, a plane emblazoned with a panda on its side.

"On the way over they were both OK," she said.

"Mei Lan was a little nervous, but basically they were both OK," the Associated Press quoted her as saying.

"I'm going to miss him terribly."

She has trained Tai Shan to understand hand signals and prepared a booklet of the signals to help his new keepers at the Bifengxia Breeding Base in Ya'an, Sichuan.

The FedEx plane carrying two giant pandas, and decorated with an image of a panda, arrives at the airport in Chengdu, southwest China"s Sichuan province, on February 5, 2010
Mei Lan and Tai Shan travelled on FedEx's Panda Express

Mei Lan is expected to be assigned a translator to help her understand the new language used by staff.

She "must be unfamiliar with Chinese", said the director of the Chengdu Panda Breeding Centre's animal management department, Huang Xiangming, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Phrases for going in and out of her dormitory would be taught, a staff member said.

She was the first cub born at Zoo Atlanta, bringing thousands more visitors to the zoo and to its webcam online.

And she is expected to stay a media star in China: people are being asked to suggest potential mates via a website.

Superman Kobe and Yong Yong, or Doubly Brave, are among the candidates. Experts will also have some input into the choice.

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