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The D-day for Yuan Zi and Huan Huan - Arrival in France on 15 january
Jerome POUILLE –

After a farewell ceremony at the Chengdu panda base on Saturday, January 14th and a careful preparation of the two animals, this is the D-day on Sunday, January 15, 2012 of the transfer of Huan Huan and Yuan Zi from China to France.

It all starts at 3:00 am in Chengdu the Sunday, January 15 : Huan Huan and Yuan Zi, housed in quarantine field at the base of Chengdu, are each charged in a first transport cage before being transferred in their definitive cages in which they will stay during the entire trip. Once in their cages, steel cages designed by FedEx to transport the pandas without having to anesthetize them, the pandas were loaded into a truck bearing on its side the text "Happily sending off the giant panda Yuan Zi & Huan Huan from Chengdu to France" for their transfer from the base of Chengdu to Chengdu airport. The truck arrived at 4:00 at Chengdu airport and then the animals were loaded on a plane specially chartered by FedEx, a Boeing 777F decorated with the image of the panda and renamed FedEx Panda Express. The plane took off from Chengdu to 8:30.

During the flight, nonstop, the pandas were supervised by two staff based in Chengdu : their keeper, Zhang Hao, and a veterinarian Liu Li, who both remain in Beauval during the first 6 months while the animals appropriates their new environment. Bamboo, apples and other foods were offered to Huan Huan and Yuan Zi during the trip. A little over eleven hours of flight were needed to navigate 8,833 km separating Paris from Chengdu.

It is 11:55 in Paris when the hundreds of accredited guests (including myself) present on the tarmac of the FedEx hub at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle (Paris region) sees in the sky the plane FedEx Panda Express, under a bright sun but a biting cold. After landing, the aircraft comes to park at 12:15 to tens of meters in front of journalists, officials and guests. Rodolphe Delord, director of the Beauval zoo, show through the aircraft cockpit a stuffed panda before going down and join her sister on the tarmac for a small ceremony, Delphine Delord (communications director of the zoo), and officials, among them the Chinese ambassador to France, Quan Kong, and the deputy of Loir-et-Cher Patrice Martin-Lalande.

China's ambassador in Paris, Quan Kong, described the loan as "a very strong gesture of friendship between the two countries." "I'm sure the pandas, with care and love provided by Beauval zoo, will spend a pleasant stay favorable to their reproduction." "I even think that pandas have learned a few words of French," he joked. "Forty years ago, almost to the day, China had offered a first pair of pandas to France, under the presidency of Georges Pompidou. I welcome the progress of exchanges in all fields between France and China. Four years ago, a deadly earthquake had hit our country. France had deployed a medical team quickly. "

Then at 12:20, the aircraft doors are opened for the unloading of two pandas. The first animal appears to 12.35, this is Huan Huan, the female, who is discharged and deposited on a small train. It is then the turn of Yuan Zi to leave the plane at 12:40 and be on the train behind Huan Huan. The two animals that we see seem relatively calm even if they look intrigued by what happens around them.

The two pandas are then inspected by the French veterinary services and all administrative formalities are carried out of sight. Then at 13:35, the two pandas are loaded into a FedEx's truck also decorated. The convoy of truck with the pandas, a rescue truck, vehicles of Beauval Zoo, the vehicle of the Chinese Embassy in France escorted by the gendarmes of the Republican Guard, takes departure for the Beauval Zoo. On the A10, vehicles of the convoy did not roll over 100 km/h.

At 3:45 p.m., the convoy made ??a stop at a service area to the tune of Orleans to see if the pandas are doing well, which is the case. An apple is given.

At 16:30, the convoy is in Blois and 45 minutes later, at 17:15, it crosses the city of Saint-Aignan. Hundreds of people cheered the passage of "Panda Express", waving small flags. "Let us be proud," said the minister and deputy of the Loir-et-Cher, Maurice Leroy, at the microphone.

Then at 17:40, the convoy finally arrives at the ZooParc of Beauval where a crowd welcomed the two animals. The two pandas are unloaded at 18:30 sheltered from public view, only one box has been seen near the panda enclosure.

Finally the day ends with a press conference at the ZooParc of Beauval at 18:50. Ms Francoise Delord, the founder and president of the Beauval Zoo, opened the conference by expressing her joy to see her dream and that of his family come true. Also present Delphine Delord, Maurice Leroy, Patrice Martin-Lalande and Zhu Liying (a representative of the Chinese Embassy in France).

The founder of Beauval, Francoise Delord, praised the "dedication" of the zoo, the fruit of six years of effort. She expressed her pride to enter the club of zoos hosting pandas. "It's not just because the animal is beautiful. It is a consecration for a zoo that makes conservation," she said, very moved.