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Pandas to get five-star treatment in S'pore

They will enjoy $8.5m enclosure and four types of specially grown bamboo
The Straits Times - May 18, 2012
By: Ng Kai Ling
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Pandas to get five-star treatment in S'pore An $8.5 million panda enclosure at the upcoming River Safari in Singapore is being prepared in anticipation of the arrival of Kai Kai and Jia Jia, two pandas that the Republic will receive on loan from China. -- ST PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM

THE endangered pandas are the national treasures of China, and Singapore has every intention of treating them as such when two of them come here.

In the run-up to Kai Kai and Jia Jia's arrival - which, it is hoped, will take place by year-end - a lot of work has been put in to make their 10-year stay here a five-star experience.

Everything - from the types of bamboo that they need to be fed to the exact spots for installing lights - is being fine-tuned months before their much-anticipated arrival.

The $8.5 million panda enclosure in the upcoming River Safari obtained its Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP) in March.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) got down to business shortly after the announcement was made in 2009 that Singapore will be among a handful of countries to receive pandas on loan from China.

It contacted its Chinese counterpart to map out an action plan. In early 2010, bamboo was planted at the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and empty plots at the upcoming River Safari site.

Pandas are known to be fussy yet big eaters, so WRS has had to plant a lot of the right bamboo. It now has about 3,000 clumps of four species - Buddha's belly bamboo, Ougon-Kou Chiku bamboo, hedge bamboo and Siamese bamboo. They can yield up to 48,000kg of bamboo a year.

But just in case this is not enough for the two pandas, which can each munch up to 15kg of bamboo a day, another 200 clumps will be planted at WRS' Lim Chu Kang farm by next month.

'The added advantage of planting the bamboos at different locations is that we are assured of constant supply in the event of a disease or fire outbreak at any one place,' said WRS chairman Claire Chiang on Wednesday, when she visited Kai Kai and Jia Jia at the panda base in Sichuan.

Batches of the Singapore- grown bamboo have been sent to the Ya'an Bifengxia Conservation Base for a taste test with the two pandas.

Ms Chiang said that when the pandas head to Singapore, 200kg of bamboo will be shipped from China 'to help them ease into their new diet'.

Around the time the bamboo was planted, work also started on a 1,225 sq m panda enclosure. It will be kept at 18 deg C to 22 deg C, with humidity levels at 50 per cent to 60 per cent all year round.

To make the pandas feel even more at home, lush greenery, boulders and water features abound, not unlike the hilly terrain of the panda base in Sichuan.

While the enclosure has received its TOP, Ms Chiang said that 'toys' such as climbing structures are still being set up because both pandas love to climb trees.

Mr Li Desheng, director of the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda, said that every little aspect has to be looked into.

'The control of the safety doors for zookeepers to go in and out of the enclosure is important so as not to agitate the pandas. This is for the safety of the pandas and the keepers,' he added.

Two Chinese keepers will follow the pandas to Singapore to help them settle in.

The Singapore team of vets and keepers tasked to care for the VIPs - Very Important Pandas - is raring to go. Over the past two years, the team members visited China thrice, for up to two weeks each time, to learn how to take care of them.

They are led by River Safari's assistant director of zoology Ang Cheng Chye and WRS' assistant director of the veterinary department, Dr Serena Oh.

Asked if Kai Kai and Jia Jia are familiar with him by now, Mr Ang replied: 'No, they don't recognise me yet.' But that should change once the cuddly pair settle down in their new home.

Pandas 101

SCIENTIFIC NAME: AILUROPODA MELANOLEUCA

  • A panda's diet consists almost entirely of the leaves, stems and shoots of various bamboo species.
  • Bamboo has very little nutritional value, so pandas must eat 12kg to 38kg of bamboo every day to meet their energy needs.
  • Only about 1 per cent of their diet is made up of other plants and meat. Occasionally, pandas will hunt for pikas and other small rodents. In captivity, they are also fed fruit and vegetables.

 

  • Pandas have a low sex drive and their mating season lasts for only two to three days a year. In panda sanctuaries, artificial insemination is sometimes used to help females conceive.
    • A panda's average life span in the wild is 14 to 20 years, but a panda can live up to 30 years in captivity.
    • Giant pandas are about 1.5m long from nose to rump, with a 10cm to 15cm tail. A large adult can weigh about 100kg to 150kg, with males 10 per cent larger and 20 per cent heavier than females.

    SOURCES: CHINA WILDLIFE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION, WORLD WIDE FUND FOR NATURE

     

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