County chief on panda mission to China

By Roddy AshworthEAST Anglia could be home to Europe's only giant pandas if an initiative by one of the region's top politicians is successful.Lord Hanningfield, leader of Essex County Council, has been to China and while there visited a panda breeding establishment near the Tibetan border.

By Roddy Ashworth

EAST Anglia could be home to Europe's only giant pandas if an initiative by one of the region's top politicians is successful.

Lord Hanningfield, leader of Essex County Council, has been to China and while there visited a panda breeding establishment near the Tibetan border.

There he met with experts to discuss a proposal to import a pair of pandas to a breeding centre in Great Britian - if possible, at Colchester Zoo - were such a facility set up to the correct specifications.


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"Although I went to China as part of a trade delegation, all the inquiries relating to pandas were made at my own expense," said Lord Hanningfield.

"At the moment there are no giant pandas in Europe at all. It would be great for the UK, and for Essex, to have them. I am sure that the queues to see them would stretch for miles."

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Lord Hanningfield said because a decision to send the pandas to the UK would have to be made by the Chinese government, negotiations had to be conducted at a political level.

"There is some possibility this could happen. We have to find the right home for them and the right place to breed them," he added.

"I have approached Colchester Zoo and if there was a proposal for a suitable facility we could tell the Chinese and we would be in with a chance of getting them."

A spokesman for Colchester Zoo, which is already home to smaller red pandas, said: "We would obviously welcome giant pandas here.

"There would need to be a huge investment in an appropriate enclosure and working on that would be the next stage. It would be fantastic if it came off."

However, a spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund said getting permission to import the pandas could present a problem.

"Giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) are in demand from zoos all over the world," he added.

"They are, however, listed on Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), so international trade is only permitted when the import is for purposes which are not primarily commercial and are not detrimental to the survival of the species. This can be a difficult judgment to make."

roddy.ashworth@eadt.co.uk

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