Thousands of Japanese admirers on Sunday bid farewell to four pandas who are due to be returned to China this week, for whom the mammals are a way to strengthen diplomatic ties with other countries. Some tear-stained visitors flocked to Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo for one last glimpse of Xiang Xiang, a female panda who has been drawing crowds since her birth in 2017. Others went to a zoo in the Wakayama area (west) to also say goodbye to three pandas Departure.
In Tokyo, only 2,600 people chosen by lottery were able to attend the final performance of Xiang Xiang, the zoo’s first baby panda since 1988. But that didn’t stop his hapless admirers from going. “I wanted to breathe the same air (…) Even though I can’t see her, my heart is filled with joy to know that she is here,” Mari Asai told the Asahi Shimbun daily.
More than 1,800 giant pandas in the wild
Ueno Zoo has received daily calls and emails from fans asking it to keep the animal, Tokyo Shimbun daily reported, citing a park official. The mammal should have reached China in 2021, but its departure has been delayed several times due to travel restrictions related to the pandemic.
In the Wakayama region, visitors welcomed one final time Eimei the panda, who became the world’s oldest father in 2020 at age 28, the equivalent of more than 80 years for a human, and their offspring, panda twins. “I am sad that they are returning to China,” a 70-year-old told public broadcaster NHK.
These mammals, recognizable by their black and white fur, are very popular around the world. China awards them as part of its “panda diplomacy,” which aims to strengthen its ties with other countries. According to the environmental organization WWF, about 1,860 giant pandas remain in the wild, mainly in the bamboo forests of China’s mountainous regions. About 600 of these animals live in captivity on the planet in centers dedicated to pandas, zoos and animal parks.