WASHINGTON – They were your tired, your hungry, your huddled pandas yearning to be fed.
The black-and-white creatures – Mei Xiang, a 2-year-old female, and Tian Tian, a 3-year-old male – arrived at the National Zoo and made straight for some waiting bamboo, then for each other.
“They’re eating nose to nose,” said Benjamin Beck, the zoo’s associate director.
The fact the pandas – creatures not exactly known for friendliness – were so playful, and after a 17-hour flight, made for much gleeful discussion among zoo staff members.
“They touched each other!” marveled spokesman Robert Hoage.
The pandas were sped to the zoo in a truck, under police escort. The original plan was to coax them into separate compartments of their newly renovated home and observe them for two days before bringing them together.
But the smooth flight on a specially equipped FedEx jet dubbed “Panda One,” and the easy landing, led to a decision to allow them to lodge together immediately.
The pandas showed signs of fatigue, and were expected to bed down within a couple of hours of their arrival at the zoo, an arm of the Smithsonian Institution.
Much was also made of the fact that the pandas were the first ever to munch on a locally cultivated bamboo instead of the imported arrow bamboo they relish.
“She came right in and grabbed a piece of Washington bamboo and started working on it,” Beck said. “Seamless!”
Only about 1,000 pandas remain in the wild, mostly in western and central China. Five other pandas live in U.S. zoos – two in Atlanta and three in San Diego.
The pandas are not old enough to produce offspring, but zoo officials are hoping they eventually will mate. Any offspring would belong to the Chinese government.
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