Changing China

Giant on the move

Olympic panda-monium reigns at Beijing Zoo

August 5, 2008

Pandas at the zoo

Forget Olympic fever. Nothing beats panda-monium.

The “Olympic pandas” at Beijing Zoo really do drive the crowds wild — even Germany’s beloved polar bear star Knut would be hard pressed to match the panda adoration sweeping the nation.

When the eight pandas in the Olympic Pavilion strut their stuff at feeding time, mothers rush to get a picture of their child with China’s national symbol in the background.

Crowds press six deep up against the glass. Everyone jostles for a position. Cameras flash constantly. The very sight of the pandas makes people grin inanely.

They have certainly played their part over the years in breaking down the barriers — panda power ranks alongside ping pong diplomacy in the breakthrough stakes.

And they have an honourable Olympic history. The first pandas ever sent abroad went to Los Angeles for the 1984 Olympics. Attendance soared at Calgary Zoo when a pair went to the Canadian host city of the winter Olympics.

What is it with cuddly, furry creatures?

Knut transformed the finances at Berlin Zoo, bringing in five million euros ($7.36 million) last year. The furry superstar, who was famously hand-reared by keepers after being rejected by mother Tosca, attracted half a million more visitors to the zoo in 2007.

Next stop could be Hollywood — the zoo director is considering offers from several production companies about an animated Knut. Could this be the new Nemo, the next Bambi?

PHOTO: Pandas eat bamboo shoots in their enclosure as people visit the Beijing Zoo ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 5, 2008. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

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