COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Two panda bears on an extended loan from China were welcomed Wednesday to their new house in Copenhagen during a ceremony fit for Denmark's queen.
Queen Margrethe inaugurated the Panda House built for Zoo Copenhagen's new residents, who arrived last week in cargo containers under China's popular "panda diplomacy" initiative.
The 160-million kroner ($24.2 million) enclosure, designed by Danish architect Bjarke Engels in the shape of a yin-yang symbol, is located in the heart of the zoo and features a panda-themed restaurant.
The 78-year-old queen untied a red velvet ribbon to officially welcome 6-year-old male Xing Er, and Mao Sun, a 5-year-old female, to their Danish accommodations. The public will be able to see the pandas for the first time on Thursday.
"Congratulations to all of us. We now have two pandas in a fabulous enclosure that we can look at for many, many years," Margrethe said.
They are to be separated and brought together again during the mating season. Xing Er replaced another male panda China originally picked to go to Denmark after it was discovered he couldn't procreate.
China has lent out pandas as a sign of goodwill to fewer than two dozen nations. Any cubs born during the 15-year loan period are considered China's.
The bears are "national treasures of China and symbol of peace," the Chinese Ambassador to Denmark, Deng Ying, said Wednesday.
In February 2018, China loaned two pandas to Finland. Two others arrived in June 2017 at Berlin's Tierpark zoo, where the first visitors were German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The best-known case of panda diplomacy was in 1972, when a arrived in the U.S., two months after President Richard Nixon's trip to China, ending 25 years of isolation and tension between the two.
This version corrects the year the pandas arrived in Finland to 2018, spelling of the male panda's name to Xing Er, not Zing Er.