Singapore Zoo braces for panda-monium as exhibit opens

Elizabeth Soh
Going Out – By Day

The Giant Panda Forest was officially launched on 28 Nov 2012 (Yahoo! Photos)

Fans hoping to catch a glimpse of Singapore's celebrity pandas Jia Jia and Kai Kai will finally be able to do so, starting from this Thursday.

The Singapore Zoo's Giant Panda Forest enclosure was officially opened by Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran to a gathering of about 100 people Wednesday morning this morning. Also present were China's Ambassador to Singapore, Mr Wei Wei, and former President SR Nathan.

Iswaran called the opening a "momentous occasion" and "a milestone in the strong bilateral ties between Singapore and China."

"It marks the culmination of three years of hard work and co-operation between numerous Singapore and Chinese agencies," he said.

The Zoo is predicting "panda-monim" when its doors open tomorrow, but Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) chairman Claire Chiang said that measures will be taken to prevent over-crowding.

"The people love pandas and there will be an overwhelming response," said Ms Chiang in Mandarin.

"We will have restrictions on how many people can be inside, not more than a hundred and fifty to two hundred people."

Four-year-old Jia Jia loves to munch and sunbathe (Yahoo! Photos)

Hope for the Pandas

Kept at 18-22 degrees Celsius so the pandas stay cool and a 50 per cent humidity level so they don't get sluggish, the 1,500 sq m enclosure is breezy, airy, and very tranquil.

Blissfully unaware of their super-star status, the two pandas seemed to be enjoying themselves, munching sporadically on bunches of bamboo or, in the case of Jia Jia, sunbathing on her back as she ignored curious stares from above.

According to Singapore Zoo staff, Kai Kai and Jia Jia have to be kept apart from each other as pandas are solitary by nature and need personal space.

The four-year-old pandas are about one year away from becoming sexually mature. When they do, efforts will be made to encourage them to breed — a notoriously difficult task as Jia Jia will only be in heat once a year, for up to three days.

Still, staff are excited about the prospect of baby pandas and told Y! Singapore that they are already hoping for twin panda cubs.

Cheeky Jia Jia is a natural in front of the cameras (Yahoo! Photos)

Wondering how to tell the two pandas apart?

Male panda Kai Kai is a little smaller in size than Jia Jia and has a little tuft of hair at the crown of his head that has affectionately earned him the nickname of "spring onion head".

Personality wise, both pandas are also very different. According to Chiang, Kai Kai is the more adventurous of the two, immediately taking to his new home, while the girly Jia Jia took a while to get used to Singapore but is now very active and loves to climb the trees in her half of the enclosure.

Extraordinary effort has also been undertaken to make sure the pandas adapt well and maintain a healthy weight of 100kg. According to Chiang, the Zoo has grown 3,000 clumps of four different kinds of bamboo around the park to meet their dietary requirements.

Another 200 clumps have also been planted at the Zoo's Lim Chu Kang farm, with an overseas supplier on standby should the local supply be disrupted.

Besides chowing down 20 kg of bamboo a day, Kai Kai and Jia Jia are also fed 500 grams of high-fibre biscuits, 400g of carrots and 200g of apples.

On special occasions, they get what the Zoo calls their "Happy Snack", or the equivalent of panda dimsum — eggs, salt, calcium, maize, soya beans, rice, and vegetable oil are mixed together and steamed for four and a half hours to make the "delicacy".

The Giant Panda Forest enclosure is part of the Zoo's River Safari Park, which is set to open for business in the first quarter of 2013.

At the moment, visitors to the Zoo must pay $5 more to enter the panda forest on top of their general admission tickets. This charge, which mainly goes towards panda research, will be waived once the River Safari opens to the public in the first quarter of next year.

See the pandas in their new enclosure.

Related links

First Photos: Jia Jia and Kai Kai at home in the Singapore Zoo

Photos: Jia Jia and Kai Kai land in Singapore

Jia Jia and Kai Kai get VIP welcome in Singapore