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(LEAD) Pandas from China unveiled to the general public

All Headlines 14:44 April 21, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info; CHANGES photo; Minor edits)

YONGIN, South Korea, April 21 (Yonhap) -- A pair of Chinese giant pandas that arrived here last month as part of a joint research project were officially unveiled to the public on Thursday at the country's largest amusement park south of Seoul.

After some 50 days of allowing the animals to get used to their new environment, Samsung Everland in Yongin, about 50 kilometers south of Seoul, held an opening ceremony for "Panda World" and showed the pandas to the public.

The two, named Ai Bao and Le Bao, were sent from the Chinese southwestern province of Sichuan after the two countries agreed to conduct joint research on the endangered species during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to South Korea in 2014.

The research will delve into conservation efforts and breeding programs, according to the amusement park that also has a large zoo.

Dubbed "panda diplomacy," China has a tradition of sending pandas to foreign countries as a gesture of friendship. It is often a time-honored goodwill gesture by Beijing for fostering bilateral relations.

Seoul had rented a pair of pandas in 1994, but they were returned to their home country in 1998 following the financial crisis that hit South Korea in the previous year.

"(We) appreciate the Chinese government for sending the precious pandas," Culture Minister Kim Jong-deok said during the opening ceremony. "(We) expect the pandas to serve a role as goodwill ambassadors in celebration of the Visit Korea Year."

The animals are one of the most endangered species on the planet with only about 2,000 giant pandas alive today.

The amusement park had been displaying the pandas to a limited number of visitors during designated hours to help them get acclimated to their new surroundings.


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