Reprinted from The Star Online
Published: Saturday April 12, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
by tho xin yi
Chet Chin, A Malaysian who has been acquainted with Feng Yi for years, eagerly waits for her arrival together with another panda, Fu Wa.
THE two giant pandas from China will be arriving in Kuala Lumpur, close to the 40th anniversary of the Joint Communique on May 31, 1974 which marked the beginning of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and China.
While Malaysians are eagerly waiting to get to know Feng Yi and Fu Wa, there is one Malaysian who has been acquainted with the duo for years.
What’s more, she is the “adoptive mother” of Feng Yi, the female panda, through a Colorado-based non-profit organisation known as Pandas International.
Chin Chet Mooi, 55, referred to Feng Yi tenderly as her daughter on her blog (mypandas.org), where she monitored the progress of the panda loan closely.
From her posts, one could tell she has a deep affection for the cuddly and adorable creatures.
“My fascination with pandas began as my response to the millennium challenge. We were coming up to a new millennium (Year 2000) and I found myself wanting to do something to commemorate the milestone.
“I decided to choose a topic of interest and spend the next 12 months learning all I can about it, and three things happened around the same time that pointed me to my subject,” she said in an email.
The three things were a Reader’s Digest cover story on China’s panda biologist Prof Pan Wenshi, an Animal Planet documentary on a panda reserve in China, and the debut of a panda cub, Hua Mei, at the San Diego Zoo.
They offered Chin a glimpse into giant panda conservation and prompted her to read up more on pandas.
When Chin chanced upon Pandas International (www.pandasinternational.org) on the Internet, she was drawn to its volunteer programme where members could work alongside keepers to look after the giant pandas at the Wolong Panda Centre in Sichuan, China.
“I finally realised my dream in September 2007. Prior to the visit, I’d watched two other documents about Wolong so by the time I set foot in the panda base, I really had the feeling of coming home.
“I’d initially planned to visit just this once, but as soon as I stepped inside, I made myself a promise to visit again at least once a year from then on,” Chin, a freelance proof-editor, said.
It was also during this visit that Chin met Feng Yi for the first time.
“In August 2006, a panda cub was born in Wolong with a harelip. It was the first such birth. As soon as I saw a photo of the little face, I told myself I wanted to adopt the cub.
“I wrote to Pandas International founder director Suzanne Braden to express my intention, and Wolong gave its permission for the adoption. However, the little cub, a male, died later due to multiple health issues.
“But Suzanne asked if I’d like to transfer my adoption to the cub’s twin sister. Without hesitation, I said yes,” Chin recalled.
The adoption is a shared adoption (the other two choices are individual adoption and lifetime adoption), which currently cost US$1,000 (RM3,200) for new adoption and US$800 (RM2,580) for renewals.
Chin continued to visit Feng Yi at least once a year, not only in Sichuan but also in Beijing and Guilin in Guangxi, where Feng Yi was sent on stints.
Chin’s devotion to Feng Yi is evident through her visits; last year, Chin saw Feng Yi a total of four times.
As she mentioned in her blog: “Who would’ve thought when I agreed to adopt Feng Yi that one day she would come to live in Malaysia and make it her home for the next 10 years?”
The panda loan agreement was inked in June 2012, after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak made the request to then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
It was originally reported that Feng Yi and Fu Wa, both born on Aug 23, 2006, would be housed in Putrajaya, but it was decided later that Zoo Negara would be their abode during their overseas stint.
Through her many interactions with Feng Yi, Chin believes the panda recognises her voice.
She said Feng Yi’s character has also changed over the years.
“When I first met her in Wolong, I found that I’d adopted a loner who preferred her own company.
“When in Beijing as part of the 2008 Olympics exhibit, I saw Feng Yi climbing on the head of another cub to get next door. The next year when I visited her at the Bifengxia panda base, I thought she looked sad. I was told one of her roommates was bullying her.
“But as she grew, she started to fight back. I’ve seen photos of her bullying other cubs and also saw it first-hand when she interrupted her roommate’s feeding.
“It would be interesting to see her interaction with Fu Wa,” Chin said.
On the pair’s loan to Malaysia, Chin was frank that she was not in favour of it at first but she felt she should support the project.
“Having met with some of the committee members and the team at the zoo and having seen the enclosure built for the pandas, I think they’ll be fine here.
“I am looking forward to their arrival and to have my family, especially my sister, meet my adopted panda daughter,” she said.
“I hope fellow Malaysians will fall in love with both Feng Yi and Fu Wa once they see them ‘in the fur’. I also hope the pandas will give all Malaysians new eyes to see and appreciate other animals, including the strays on our streets,” Chin said.
While Feng Yi will only be a 45-minute drive away from where Chin lives once the pandas arrive here, Chin said she would also continue to travel to China to visit her two other adopted pandas, one of which is Feng Yi’s cub.
Pandas International was founded by Braden and Diane Rees after a trip to China and the Wolong panda base in 1999.
Its mission is to ensure the preservation and propagation of the endangered giant pandas through public awareness and education, support for research, habitat preservation and enhancement, as well as assistance to the giant panda centres.
The adoption contributes to the cost of veterinary care, medicine and vitamins, daily meals of the pandas and the caretakers.
Braden said the organisation hoped that Malaysians would enjoy the pandas and learn the importance of preserving this magnificent species through the loan agreement.
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.