Sun, Feb 19, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Council of Agriculture to decide on panda import application by April 3

CNA , TAIPEI

The Council of Agriculture (COA) will decide by April 3 whether to accept two giant pandas China wants to send to Taiwan as gifts, a senior official said.

COA Vice Chairman Lee Tao-sheng (李桃生) made the remarks on Friday after presiding over a hearing on China's panda offer to solicit opinions from environmentalists, wildlife conservationists and representatives of colleges and universities that have a zoology department.

China has offered to present Taiwan with a pair of giant pandas and two local institutions -- the government-owned Taipei City Zoo and the privately run Leofoo Village safari park -- have applied to host the pandas.

A COA-led special task force already held several rounds of consultative meetings last November and December to decide whether to open the door to the pandas, or "cat-bears" as they are called in Chinese.

The COA was originally scheduled to decide by March 23 whether to approve the panda import application. But Lee said the schedule has been postponed to April 3, because Leofoo safari park has to produce some additional documents.

At the hearing, all environmental and conservation advocacy groups voiced strong opposition to the panda imports.

China has chosen a pair of giant pandas to be sent to Taiwan as "goodwill presents" to the people of Taiwan, but COA officials insisted that China cannot send its pandas without the Taiwan government's consent.

"Key points being weighed by the task force include whether the import procedures comply with international wildlife conservation regulations, whether the would-be host zoo has adequate manpower resources and facilities and whether local vets can cope with any relevant emergencies," Lee said.

China made the panda offer to Lien Chan (連戰) while he was on a visit to China last May in his capacity as chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

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