Yuan Zai (圓仔), a six-month-old panda cub at the Taipei Zoo, late on Friday beat panda competitors around the world in an online competition to grab the award for best panda personality of last year, thanks to widespread support from netizens in Taiwan.
Yuan Zai, Taiwan’s first panda cub, was at the bottom of the list of five nominees at the halfway point of the online poll held from Dec. 13 to Jan. 14, but at the last minute, a large number of voters threw their support behind her, giving her a big boost in votes.
“Yuan Zai has worked hard to win the prize,” Taipei Zoo spokesman Chao Ming-chieh (趙明杰) said after learning about the news. “She deserves it. She is the pride of Taiwan.”
The zoo has been providing video footage of the cub almost every day after her birth, which has also helped build up the bond between the cub and the public, he said.
Eyeing the prize, the zoo has been campaigning for the cub, which made her public debut earlier this month.
The cub won 39 percent of a total of 239,456 online votes for the category of “Panda Personality of 2013: ‘The Bear.’”
It was the highest support rate in all 10 categories of the Giant Panda Zoo Awards, a contest initiated by Belgian panda enthusiast Jeroen Jacobs.
Yuan Zai has been a huge sensation since her birth on July 6 last year. It was therefore not surprising that so many Taiwanese fans voted for her, even though some of them may not be fluent in English and may have found the competition’s English Web site somewhat confusing.
According to Jacobs, Taiwan registered the second-highest number of voters, after the US, whose panda twins Mei Lun and Mei Huan beat Yuan Zai in the “Panda Cub of the Year” award, the only other category Yuan Zai competed in.
Still, Yuan Zai was named the silver winner with 30 percent of the votes in that category, trailing behind Zoo Atlanta’s twins by just 1 percent of the votes.
Altogether six panda cubs born last year competed in the contest, including cubs born in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo in the US and Zoo Madrid in Spain.
Jacobs said the large amount of votes cast overall, which was 10 times more than in last year’s first competition, also showed a worldwide interest in pandas.
“The Giant Panda Zoo Awards are the time of the year for the general public to speak up and support those who have worked very hard in the panda conservation field,” Jacobs said in a statement.
There are only 1,600 giant pandas left in the wild, with 376 being raised in captivity, according to Jacobs.
Yuan Zai’s parents are Tuan Tuan (團團) and Yuan Yuan (圓圓), a pair of giant pandas given to Taiwan four years ago by China and whose names together means “reunion” in Chinese.
Yesterday, the second weekend after Yuan Zai’s debut, the number of visitors to the zoo surged to a record high of 2,119 when the zoo opened at 9am, as many students have begun their winter vacation.