Image: Pandas
AP
Pandas Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, whose names together mean "reunion", eat bamboo at a panda base in Ya'an, in southwest China's Sichuan province, on Thursday. The pair are scheduled to arrive in taiwan before Christmas.
updated 12/12/2008 9:22:32 AM ET 2008-12-12T14:22:32

Crate training and comfort food are part of preparations for two pandas headed from mainland China to Taiwan in a highly anticipated exchange signifying warming ties between the longtime rivals, state media reported Friday.

Beijing first offered the pandas to Taiwan in 2005 but Taiwan's former leaders resisted the move, saying it was part of Chinese efforts to persuade the island to unify with the mainland.

Taiwan's current President Ma Ying-jeou, however, has tried to nurture closer ties with the mainland and accepted the pandas as a goodwill gesture.

"Tuan Tuan" and "Yuan Yuan," whose names when linked mean "reunion" in Chinese, have passed health checks and will travel to the Taipei Zoo accompanied by a veterinarian and a panda keeper, the Chengdu Daily newspaper reported Friday.

The handlers will bring along a week's supply of the pair's favorite foods — bamboo, apples and steamed cornbread — to ease the adjustment.

"Currently we are training Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan to live in a crate so that there will be no problems during the transport," keeper Huang Zhi was quoted as saying. "Preparations are all in place, so we can leave for Taiwan at any time."

The departure date for the 4-year-old pandas has not yet been announced. Phones rang unanswered at the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, but the official Xinhua News Agency cited the office as saying that the animals would arrive on the island sometime this month.

In return for the pandas, China will receive two of Taiwan's unique Formosan serows, which are goat-like mammals.

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing continues to claim the self-governing island as part of its territory, and has been using a blend of threats and diplomacy to try to bring Taiwan back into its fold.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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