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Copenhagen Zoo welcomes two pandas from China

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COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Chinese pandas Xing Er and Mao Sun are settling into their new home at Copenhagen Zoo.

Their 160 million Danish crowns ($24 million) enclosure was opened to the public on Thursday by Denmark’s Crown Princess Mary after the animals were officially welcomed on Wednesday.

“We’re enjoying the sun today – it couldn’t be better. A lot of guests will come today to see the real life pandas,” the Australian-born princess told reporters on Thursday.

“That a zoo has pandas is unique and can be compared to advancing in the Champions League,” zoo spokesperson Jacob Munkholm Hoeck said, likening it to the elite soccer tournament.

The zoo is hoping to start a breeding programme with the animals.

“We have a female panda named Mao Sun and a male panda called Xing Er and they are five and six years old … In the wild they live on their own, just like here. But once every year when the female is on heat, we’ll bring them together and then we hope they can make panda babies,” the spokesman said.

Queen Margrethe cut the ribbon on the animals’ new enclosure during a ceremony on Wednesday which drew a small number of protesters. A few protesters waving Tibetan flags were also gathered outside of the zoo on Thursday.

Danish-Chinese relations have improved markedly since a low point 10 years ago, when Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen met the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who Beijing brands as a dangerous separatist.

Copenhagen Zoo, which hit the headlines for the killing and public dissection of a healthy giraffe five years ago, has become the 27th of the world’s around 10,000 zoos to have pandas, and the ninth in Europe.

($1 = 6.6404 Danish crowns)

(Reporting by Teis Jensen; Editing by Alison Williams)

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