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Pandas mobbed by fans in disaster-hit Japan

01 april 2011, 12:25
Thousands of visitors flocked to Tokyo's Ueno Zoo Friday to catch a first glimpse of a pair of pandas on loan from China, in a welcome respite from the gloom over last month's earthquake and tsunami, AFP reports.

The fluffy animals, who arrived at the zoo from China in February, had been scheduled to appear before the public from March 22, but power cuts and fears of aftershocks had caused the zoo to be closed since the disaster.

According to the zoo, about 2,000 to 3,000 people had already lined up outside the zoo gate when it opened, and the queue remained long throughout the morning.

"The children looked very happy to see the pandas," said Yumi Suzuki, an official of the zoo. "The pandas looked cheerful, too, as they were eating their bamboo."

The pandas each eat about 30 kilograms (65 pounds) of bamboo per day, along with apples, carrots and special dumplings made of grains, according to the zoo.

The pair, a male named Bili and female named Xiannu, caused a media frenzy when they arrived in the panda-loving nation earlier this year, at the start of what is planned to be a decade-long stay.

The two five-year-olds follow in the steps of Ling Ling, the zoo's most recent panda, who died of heart failure in 2008 at the age of 22 -- the equivalent of 70 human years.

The zoo closed after the 9.0-magnitude quake and deadly tsunami on March 11, which also caused a massive nuclear power plant accident, prompting a nationwide radiation scare.

The zoo reopened Friday, but with shorter opening hours to save electricity. Some souvenir shops are also closed reflecting rolling power cuts and power saving efforts necessitated by the natural disasters.

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