TAIPEI, Taiwan – A six-month old giant panda was unveiled to her adoring public in Taiwan on Monday, as long lines of children of all ages queued up at the Taipei zoo to see the cub cavorting around her cage with an understandably protective mother.
Yuan Zai's debut had long been anticipated on this island of 23 million people.
With delighted visitors passing in front of her cage at the rate of 40 per minute, Yuan Zai showed off her climbing skills before retreating to mother Yuan Yuan's embrace, and then heading off for a nap. She currently sleeps 20 hours a day.
Zoo officials say they will be able to accommodate 19,000 visitors a day to see Yuan Zai, whose mother and father came to Taiwan from China in late 2008. Their arrival was seen at the time as a high water mark in Beijing's use of "soft power" in Taiwan, which split from the mainland amid civil war in 1949, and remains the object of unwavering Chinese attempts to bring it back into the fold — by persuasion if possible, by force if necessary.
But politics seemed to be about the last thing on the minds of Yuan Zai's fan base Monday as again and again visitors' faces lit up with broad smiles amid giggles of glee and repeated cries of "how cute" or "how beautiful."
Chinese giant pandas have been a hit all around the world, but they seem to have a special cachet in Taiwan, where animal figures are so much in vogue that Taiwanese airline company Eva Airways has found that festooning its aircraft in the livery of fictional Japanese figure Hello Kitty provides a powerful boost to sales.