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China to send two pandas to Australia

/ Source: The Associated Press

China will send two giant pandas to an Australian zoo this Friday as part of a joint research program.

Four-year-old male Wang Wang and 3-year-old female Fu Ni will be loaned to Australia for 10 years, according to Zhang Hemin, head of the Wolong Nature Reserve Administration, the official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday. The two pandas are heading to Adelaide Zoo.

China's President Hu Jintao offered the pandas as a goodwill gesture during a 2007 visit to Australia.

China often sends gifts of its unofficial national mascot to foreign nations as a sign of friendship.

Relations have been strained recently between the countries, with Beijing upset over alleged Australian government restrictions on Chinese investment in mining, and the arrest of an Australian mining executive in China.

China's communist government has also protested to Australia over a recent visit there by Rebiya Kadeer, a U.S.-based ethnic Uighur Muslim from China's west whom Beijing brands a terrorist.

The two pandas have been living at the Bifengxia Giant Panda Breeding Center in Ya'an City in southwestern Sichuan province, after the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center where they were living was destroyed in last year's massive quake.

Zhang said Australia sent veterinarians and a care keeper to China for training. It had also set up a 10-hectare bamboo enclosure for the animals, he said. The two pandas will get a body check Tuesday before their departure.

Only about 1,600 of the animals live in the wild, while another 120 are in Chinese breeding facilities and zoos.

China uses payments from zoos that host loaned pandas to fund extensive research and breeding programs. Under such loan agreements, any panda cubs born overseas to lent animals remain China's property.