TAIPEI -- The panda pair given by the Chinese mainland to Taiwan made their debut at the Taipei Zoo Saturday evening, meeting a select group of visitors including Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou and Kuomintang Honorary Chairman Lien Chan.
"It's an honor for Taiwan to breed the two pandas, as there are only about 1,600 pandas in the world," said Ma, at the ceremony to inaugurate the new enclosure for the pandas.
About 500 orphans and children from poor families were invited by the city government to be the first visitors to the panda pair.
"It's a time for family reunions at Spring Festival, but some children have lost their families and others cannot afford to go to the zoo. That's why we invited them, and we wish them a happy new year," said the Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin.
Huang Kai-tzong, 7, one of the invited children, was much impressed by the way the two pandas ate bamboo.
"They are so cute and their eyes are beautiful. I like them!" Huang said.
"The panda pair is a precious gift from the mainland. Taiwan is an immigrant society, and we expect the two pandas to have many children and grandchildren so that in the future pandas will become a new group in Taiwan," KMT Honorary Chairman Lien Chan said.
The two pandas, named "Tuan Tuan" and "Yuan Yuan"(when linked, their names mean "reunion" in Chinese), have completed a month-long quarantine period since they arrived from Sichuan Province on December 23.
They will be open to the Taiwan public on January 26, the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year.
It's estimated an average of 22,000 panda visitors per day will come to the enclosure once it's opened, according to the zoo. To accommodate the crowds, the zoo will extend business hours until 18:00 p.m. during the Spring Festival holidays.
The city government estimates the pandas will attract about 6 million visitors to the zoo annually, double the current number.
The mainland announced in May 2005 it would donate two giant pandas to Taiwan. Their departure had been delayed for more than three years. Improved cross-Straits ties made their journey to Taiwan possible.