BRUSSELS, Dec. 4 (Xinhua) -- The giant panda is a powerful symbol when it comes to species conservation. In Belgium, a zoo that is hosting five giant pandas and has worked with Chinese animal experts on panda breeding for many years epitomizes the cooperation between the two countries in protecting animals and preserving biodiversity.
FAMILY OF FIVE PANDAS
In February this year, the Pairi Daiza Zoo in southwest Belgium's Brugelette municipality nailed down an agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association to allow 6-year-old Tian Bao, the very first giant panda born in the European country, to continue to stay there, making the zoo one of the few in the world that host as many as five pandas.
Back in 1987, giant pandas were gaining fans in Belgium when the country received two from southwest China's Sichuan Province for a months-long sojourn. Numerous locals flocked to the garden where they stayed to catch a glimpse.
Twenty-seven years later, another panda couple named Xing Hui and Hao Hao arrived in Brussels in line with a 15-year giant panda cooperation agreement signed between the two countries. The number of visits to the zoo in 2014 reached nearly 2 million.
Before their arrival, the Pairi Daiza Zoo built specially for the pandas a 5,300-square-meter habitat designed with some features of their original home in Sichuan, and dispatched staff to the Chinese center to learn how to keep pandas and prepare feed for them. China also sent two breeders to help feed the pandas in Belgium.
By now, the couple has given birth to three cubs, with their first baby Tian Bao born in 2016, and twins Bao Di and Bao Mei born in 2019.
"Every day is different and you never get bored looking after these extraordinary animals. And this pleasure is increased tenfold when we can be present at the birth of a baby panda, as was the case with Tian Bao in June 2016," said Robin, a panda keeper shown on the official website of the zoo that didn't give his full name.
The ever-growing panda family marked a friendship between the Chinese and Belgian people, and set a new example of bilateral cooperation on biodiversity conservation.
Though breeding giant pandas in captivity is incredibly hard, Xing Hui and Hao Hao managed to give birth to offsprings thanks to joint efforts made by zoologists from China and Belgium, which is widely deemed as a miracle.
In February 2016, a team of Chinese experts came to Belgium to assist the breeding of the pandas, in cooperation with their colleagues from the zoo and Belgium's Veterinary Faculty of the University of Ghent. Four months later, Tian Bao was delivered, whose name means a treasure from heaven in Chinese.
Moreover, Bao Di and Bao Mei were born in August 2019, which had been conceived through insemination carried out with the help of specialists from the Chinese center. At the ceremony of 2019 Giant Panda Global Awards, the pair of baby pandas won the "Panda Cub of the Year" Gold Award.
"If China hadn't gone to great lengths to protect giant pandas in the past few decades, it would be difficult to see this rare species now. Giant pandas are not only for people to watch, but more importantly, they are beneficial to biodiversity development," said Jeroen Jacobs, founder of the Giant Panda Global website, the organizer of the award.
Over more than eight years, cooperation between Belgian and Chinese specialists have achieved positive progress in panda breeding, feeding and management of cubs, health monitoring, personnel training, scientific research and public education.
For instance, Jella Wauters, a veterinarian of the University of Ghent, is heading a study entitled "Metabolomics in the Giant Panda: unraveling the reproductive biology" for the Pairi Daiza Foundation. The aim of her research is to allow scientists to predict the fertility period of a female giant panda, and ultimately, to increase the chances of reproduction not only in the zoos and breeding centers in China, but also in nature.
At the three-year-old birthday celebration held for Bao Di and Bao Mei on Aug. 6, Chinese Ambassador to Belgium Cao Zhongming said that the population of giant pandas worldwide has increased to more than 2,500, and the threat level facing the species has been downgraded from "critically endangered" to "vulnerable."
During the event co-hosted by the Chinese Embassy in Belgium, Pairi Daiza Zoo and the China Cultural Center in Brussels, Tommy Leclercq, governor of Hainaut Province where the zoo is located, spoke highly of China's achievements in animal and plant protection, expressing his hope that China and Belgium will continue to join hands in biodiversity protection.