The two giant pandas living at Ouwehands Zoo in the Dutch city of Rhenen staged an enchanting debut for hundreds of long-awaited admirers on Tuesday afternoon.
After six weeks in quarantine since their arrival on April 12, Wu Wen, the female giant panda, made tentative steps into her outdoor enclosure. Nonchalant at the gaze of dozens of children, she threw herself at the first bamboo plant she saw and started to gormandize.
"What an appetite! Will she eat up all the bamboos planted in the enclosure in one week?" one child asked.
"No worry. She has plenty of bamboos stocked in her room. This is only for amusement," answered his pal.
Xing Ya, the male, strided out of his court like an emperor inspecting his new territory. He patrolled the grassland, tested a shallow rig, pawed the wooden wall and tried to climb up a trunk which defied his heavy body.
Abandoning the disobeying tree, he enthroned himself on a rock to enjoy early summer sunshine. With a lofty disdain, he solemnly greeted a full circle of cameras and mobile phones marvelling at him.
"Both are in perfect health and adapt well to their new home," said Zhang Hongwen, chief economist of China's State Forestry Administration.
Wu Wen and Xing Ya, both three-and-a-half-year-old, will stay at Ouwenhands for 15 years. Native to south central China, they belong to a conservation reliant vulnerable species which count only 1,864 individuals.
"I am glad to see that Wu Wen and Xing Ya are so popular in the Netherlands. Living at this wonderful residence in Chinese palace style, they are really treated as emperor and empress," said Zhang.
"Their stay will surely boost Sino-Dutch cooperation relating to the protection of forestry and bio-diversity," he added.
For Martijn van Dam, Dutch State Secretary for Economic Affairs, "the Netherlands has already enclosed Wu Wen and Xing Ya in its heart".
"Through an intensive program, China has succeeded to stop the decline of the number of pandas. China also makes efforts to maintain the natural habitat of the giant pandas. We would also like to contribute to that," he said.
"From today on, Dutch children will get to know Wu Wen and Xing Ya....They can get inspired by all the beautiful and powerful things nature has to offer. Hopefully, new nature protectors will arise here at this place."
The Dutch official hailed 45 years of good cooperation between his country and China.
"Wu Wen and Xing Ya underline these good developments. Let this be a sign of hope that with joint forces we can protect our nature worldwide, and let this be the beginning of a wave of inspiration for the new generation."
Jan Peter Balkenende, Former Dutch Prime Minister who played a role in the panda cooperation project, told the audience that "if pandas are lent to a country, it is an expression of friendship and connection."
He stressed on "panda-potentials", which will invite old and young people to reflect on the nature, to increase knowledge and to achieve business success.
Marcel Boekhoorn, owner of Ouwehands Zoo, beamed with happiness.
Following a 16-year period of consultations and preparations, the two pandas were symbolically gifted to the Netherlands by China during the state visit of Dutch Royal Couple in October 2015.
"In China where during many trips we learned from our Chinese friends how giant pandas live and how we can protect these endangered animals. Now is the moment to share this dream with the whole of the Netherlands," Boekhoorn told guests invited to the official opening of Pandasia, the special complex "built with lots of love and attention" for Wu Wen and Xing Ya.
"A residence for giant pandas has to be giant. Not only because they are enormous animals that like to have enough space inside and outside, but mostly because they are solitary animals. They like to be by themselves. Pandasia therefore has a separate inside and outside area for the male as well as for the female," he explained.
During the precious three days of mating time every year, Wu Wen and Xing Ya will be invited to "get together" if they like each other, said the zoo owner.