Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Panda mania

While I'm typing this, a specially chartered DHL flight is making its descent towards Brussels airport. On board, two very special 'immigrants': Hua Hua and Xing Hui. They left Chengdu in China on Friday and after a brief stop in Baghrein to stock up on some extra forage for the two special passengers, their final destination is only minutes and a few air miles away.

At the airport they will be greeted by our Prime Minister, Elio Di Rupo, who last year personally negotiated the couple's departure with the Chinese authorities. He will be accompanied by several other governments members, as well as the Chinese Ambassador to Belgium. The airport's fire brigade will bring a special salute and escort Hua Hua and Xing Hui to their personal vehicle. The partners will travel in separate cars, to avoid them both being injured or killed if their vehicle were to encounter an accident.

The special convoy will be escorted by four motorized police. The drive will take little over an hour. At their destination the couple will be given separate rooms and requested to remain in quarantine for about a month. They will have ample time to recover from their long journey before being introduced to ... the hoards of tourists who will be visiting Pairi Daiza the animal park near Mons, where they will residing for the next fifteen years.

Because Hua Hua and Xing Hui are two giants pandas which have been been lend by China to Belgium. They are part of the international breeding program.

Their coming to Belgium almost caused a national incident last year when our Prime Minister who's also mayor of Mons, personally intervened to get the pandas to Pairi Daiza (in French speaking Belgium) instead of the city zoo of Antwerp (in Flandres). Today the almost 'royal' welcome the animals are given, is considered over the top. The trade unions of the motorized police find the whole set up a blow in the face, as the police is suffering from lack of funds and requisitioning four policemen on a Sunday is considered as sheer waste.
Or how the symbol of the WWF can cause havoc in a small country!
Nevertheless, welcome to Hua Hua and Xing Hui. Hope you'll love your stay in Belgium and may you have many little panda babies ... with a Belgian passport!


chm said...

I was going to write a nasty post about how vain is the human nature at the expense of the animal world, but stopped on time.

Just to make my point, these Pandas are lovely!

Ken Broadhurst said...

I think Beauval is paying China a million euros a year for the privilege of having temporary custody of two pandas. Belgium too, non?

Jean said...

How times have changed.
At one time marauding explorers would simply have chained them together in the hold of a ship and brought them to Europe without any real consideration for their welfare.
Whilst it's difficult to argue with the "waste" argument, considering that there is so much human poverty in Europe, I can't help thinking this is a far better way to treat rare and beautiful animals.
I hope they are very happy in Belgium, I'm sure their welcome was the finest of anywhere !!

GaynorB said...

Some friends who have a gite and chambre d'hote near Beauval have reported an large increase in business, due mainly to having the pandas in residence.

They are magnificent animals and I hope the notoriously difficult breeding regime works out.

Nadege said...

They are royalty and deserve the accolades and respect they are due. They will bring a lot of money to the zoo and probably this part of Belgium with all the tourists that will want to take a glance at them.

Louise said...

What a thought provoking post.I find it interesting that such special animals have almost a diplomatic role between the two receiving them in such a manner the Chinese will regard the Belgian officials with respect...and respect builds trust between nations. However,domestically there will always be those who view such a "display" as waste.

VirginiaC said...

How I enjoyed reading about this special delivery...thanks for writing this post Martine.
What a lovely welcome they will receive...but then they are special aren't they?

ladybird said...

Chm, They look very cute, and I bet they will be a huge success when the animal park opens in April. Not sure about how the animals will feel though.

Ken, The shares of the animal park have already gone up ... and so has the income fee. The transport and the new accommodation have cost 10 mio euros. I guess the annual cost will be 1 mio or even more.

Jean, I have no problem with the special way of transport. As you mentioned, so much better than in the old days. And these animals are very precious indeed. However, as the daughter of an ex-Sabena employee I have some problems with the fire brigade's salute. The last time this happened, was in 2001 when the last plane of the Sabena fleet returned to its home base after the company had been picked clean by the Swissair management ... pushing it into bankruptcy.

Gaynor, The breeding program will be supervised by the veterinary section of Gent university, one of the most prominent in Europe.

Nadege, Pandas are real money makers indeed. They will do wonders to the Walloon economy which is in dire straits.

Louise, The Chinese ambassador who was present at the airport underlined exactly what you are saying. Entrusting Belgium with the care of these animals, is proof of the mutual respect two countries have towards each other.

Virginia, Yes they are very special animals and I'm happy that they could travel in such good conditions. Hope they'll settle in well ... and when the time comes (in 15 years) will put a veto against their return to China :)