THE HAGUE: Two giant pandas arrived by plane at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport Wednesday after a marathon 8,000 kilometre journey from China, the first breeding pair on Dutch soil in three decades.
Female panda Wu Wen (Beautiful Powerful Cloud) and her male companion Xing Ya (Elegant Star) touched down at Schiphol at around 1730 GMT after leaving Chengdu in central China more than 10 hours earlier.
A giant television screen showed the pandas being lowered onto the tarmac from a passenger jet operated by Dutch national carrier KLM, surrounded by Dutch border police.
Later they were put on display for more than 100 journalists and guests straining to catch a glimpse of the two animals in their specialised cages which included see-through plexiglass.
“I’m so happy so many friends have come to welcome my two new colleagues,” China’s ambassador to The Netherlands Wu Ken told the crowd, speaking in Dutch.
“This is a huge step in bilateral relations between China and The Netherlands,” Wu said.
The pandas are headed for the Ouwehands Dierenpark zoo in Rhenen, where they’ll stay on loan for the next 15 years as part of the park’s Asian exhibition.
The park has built a special enclosure for the two pandas at a cost of around seven million euros ($7.4 million), Dutch media reported Wednesday.
This includes separate indoor and outdoor spaces, night accommodation, a nursery, a cold store for their bamboo food supply, a special veterinary clinic and an area for their full-time keepers, the Ouwehands zoo said in a statement.
“A warm welcome awaits them, which will naturally be in an entirely panda-themed manner,” the park added.
The pandas will be housed at the park at a cost of around one million dollars per year for the rest of their stay, Dutch daily tabloid Algemeen Dagblad reported.
The Ouwehands zoo said it “will make a substantial financial contribution each year to support nature-protection activities in China.”
The zoo, with help from the Dutch government, has been negotiating for 16 years to bring the pandas to The Netherlands.
The deal to bring the pandas to The Netherlands was clinched during a state visit to China by Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima in October 2015, the zoo added.
Meanwhile, panda mania has gripped The Netherlands ahead of the bears’ arrival, with Dutch newspapers devoting pages of space to the bears’ arrival and the hashtags #Pandas #pandakoorts (panda fever) trending on the Dutch Twitter feed.
The last time there were pandas in The Netherlands was in 1987, when two giant pandas were on show at a Dutch safari park for four months.
An expectant Dutch public however will have to wait to catch a glimpse of the animals: the bears will now be kept in quarantine for up to the six weeks before an official opening date, yet to be announced.