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Panda pair 'married' as officials hope for kids

Two pandas were married by proxy in Thailand on Wednesday  at what officials hope is the start of their mating season.
Two giant pandas on loan to Thailand fro
Chuang Chuang, right, and Lin Hui, enjoy a wedding ice cake filled with fruits at Chiang Mai Zoo in northern Thailand on Wednesday. Str / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: Reuters

Two pandas were married by proxy in Thailand on Wednesday to mark the 28th birthday of their zoo and what officials hope is the start of their mating season.

The traditional Chinese ceremony was held for 5-year-old male Chuang Chuang and 4-year-old female Lin Hui, lent to the zoo in the northern city of Chiang Mai for 10 years in 2003, Thai and Chinese officials said.

“Start making children soon. Don’t let me down,” Chinese Consul Peng Ren Dong told a couple dressed as pandas — which are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity — during a colourful tea ceremony which is part of Chinese wedding rites.

The ceremony, formally called The Happiness & Fun Fair to avoid offending conservatives who think “marrying” animals is undignified, started on a hot and murky morning in Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s home town.

Hundreds of people in traditional costumes, led by Thai drummers and dragon dancers, marched from a city gate to the zoo.

The proxy pandas — the “bride” wearing a traditional red and white Chinese headdress -- rode in a convertible car at the head of a parade of people waving Chinese and Thai flags and mascots.

The parade stopped at a school where drum dancers performed, then paused at the Chinese consulate for a dragon dance during its 4 km (2.5 mile) route to the zoo, where the pandas live in a $1 million refrigerated cage.

The “bride,” a teenage girl, had to sit down and inhale eucalyptus oil to prevent herself from fainting after spending a couple of hours in the panda costume.

After the tea ceremony, the real pandas — who eat only bamboo — were showered with fruit, ice cream and a three-tier ice cake decorated with dragons. Their human proxies were sprinkled with water to fight the heat.

Zoo officials said they hoped Thailand’s hot climate would bring forward the pandas’ mating season to November from the March-May period in their native China.

“We believe the sun and heat in Thailand will have an impact on their hormone system and will accelerate their reproductive capability,” senior zoologist Thanong Nateepitak was quoted as saying by the Matichon newspaper.