- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 25, 2000

It's official. The announcement was made Tuesday. On Dec. 6 two giant pandas will touch down at Dulles International Airport and head, via special convoy, to their new home at the National Zoo in Northwest Washington.

Two-year-old Mei Xiang, pronounced "may sh-ONG," and 3-year-old Tian Tian, pronounced "t-YEN t-YEN," are expected to be huge attractions when they go on display in early January after being quarantined for several weeks. She weighs slightly more than 100 pounds, and he is twice her size. Her name means beautiful fragrance and his means more and more.

U.S. and Chinese officials negotiated for months before agreeing on an $18 million pact that allows the pandas to visit for 10 years and calls for $10 million of those funds to be spent on panda conservation programs in China. All of the money was raised through private donations, and Federal Express donated the cargo plane for the 17-hour flight from the Wolong Reserve in Sichuan province to Anchorage, Alaska, and then Fairfax County.

Mei and Tian are expected to breed in a couple years, and officials (indeed much of America), hope they are successful. Their predecessors at the National Zoo, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, had five cubs who each lived for only a few days. Ling-Ling died in 1992 and Hsing-Hsing in 1999.

There are only about 1,000 of the striking black-and-white giant pandas in the wild, and they live in mountainous bamboo forests in China. The National Zoo is part of a major international campaign trying to up those numbers through research and conservation efforts, including training Chinese scientists.

Of course, that's all very serious business that will hardly be on the minds of young people who will delight in watching Mei and Tian come January and thereafter. The two will be easy to spot. Just look for the huge crowds.

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