Pandas: Giant deal for Pairi Daiza

  • The Walloon wildlife park has emerged victorious from the “panda race”
  • A pair of the bears will arrive at the Brugelette attraction in the spring of 2014
  • A potentially lucrative coup for Pairi Daiza

Li Keqiang, the Chinese Prime Minister, waited until the closing stages of his 40-minute meeting with his Belgian counterpart, Elio Di Rupo, on Wednesday to broach the subject that has had the entire country on the edge of its seat. In the end the Chinese authorities agreed to the loan of two giant pandas to the Pairi Daiza wildlife park for 15 years. The park’s director, Eric Domb, signed an agreement with the forestry administration setting forth the project’s guidelines.

 

The park’s management has remained secretive on details of the project. We do know that the pandas are four years old. The male is named Xinhui (Shining Star) and the female Haohao (Nice). They will leave for Brugelette in the spring of 2014 for the park’s 20th anniversary. There will be an area specifically designed for the two bears in the Chinese garden. The facility will bring together “the most recent knowledge about giant panda habitat, well-being and reproduction,” according to a statement.

 

Diplomacy…

Tuesday, Di Rupo provided the “explanation” that Flemish minister-president Kris Peeters (CD&V) had demanded when tempers flared in Flanders about the federal premier’s “partiality” on this issue. The prime minister insisted on “the professionalism” of Pairi Daiza’s application. Contacts and diplomatic/political lobbying by the Belgian ambassador to China and foreign affairs staff provided an introduction for the park management’s request. Although the quality of the application was important, “the excellent relations between Belgium and China” also weighed in the balance. Beijing is Belgium’s primary trading partner in Asia.

 

The contacts have been constant. There were several visits by high-level Chinese officials in 2012, including the former prime minister Hu Jintao, who met both the king and the prime minister. There have also been several trips by Belgian executives in the other direction. The new Chinese premier will soon make an official visit to Belgium on the invitation of our government.

 

…And investment

Receiving the pandas is not just a diplomatic success – Pairi Daiza will be the sixth European park to welcome them. It’s also a very lucrative program for a wildlife park. Investors did not miss out. Pairi Daiza stock jumped 6.16% at the close of the Brussels stock exchange on Wednesday. Between November 2012 and today, the stock price has gone from €18.21 to €31.

 

The arrival of the pandas is also a challenge for the park which will include a reproductive program guided by the Chinese. It’s no trifling matter. Female pandas are fertile for 36 to 48 hours a year in April or May. The opportunity can’t be missed. In general, conception is performed by artificial insemination-  a technique that the Chinese have mastered. If a cub is born, it will be the property of China and will return to that country. Potentially, it could stay in its birthplace…at a certain price, of course.

 

MICHEL DE MUELENAERE

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