The Taipei City Government recently asked the central government to set up an interagency task force to assist with the delivery of a pair of pandas from China.
The request, issued on Wednesday in a written statement, was made after the city government on Sept. 1 formed a special unit — headed by Taipei Deputy Mayor Wu Ching-ji (吳清基) and Taipei Zoo director Jason Yeh (葉傑生) — to handle the issue. The Taipei Zoo was chosen last month to house the animals.
Given that the shipment of the pandas is related to cross-Taiwan Strait negotiations, the municipal government said the Executive Yuan should establish a team to assist with negotiations between Taipei, local governments and the Chinese authorities to facilitate the transfer, which is scheduled for the end of December, Yeh said.
Out of consideration for the well-being of the animals, the zoo is seeking to have them transported on a direct charter flight from Chengdu, Sichuan Province, to Songshan Airport in Taipei, Yeh said.
“If the quarantine facilities at Songshan airport are not adequate, the pandas can be brought to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport instead,” he said.
EVA Airways, which has flown koala bears from Australia to China, has offered to transport the pandas free of charge, as has China Airlines, Yeh said.
The import of pandas is subject to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international treaty that protects endangered and threatened plant and animal species from overexploitation by regulating their trade, Yeh said.
Taiwan and China are required to obtain import and export permits from CITES before the delivery of the pandas can be carried out, Yeh said, adding that the biggest difficulty Taiwan was facing was the name it should use to apply for the import permit.
Although Taiwan would prefer to apply for the permit based on a state-to-state status rather than as a local government of China, an agreement on the issue will be required during negotiations between Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation and its Chinese counterpart, the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, he said.
Yeh said the Taipei Zoo had proposed that Taiwan and China apply for export and import permits on an equal footing — either as state-to-state, city-to-city, or zoo-to-zoo.
China offered the pandas in 2005 as gifts to Taiwan, but the government of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) nixed the idea, as it was considered by China as a domestic transfer.
However, the Council of Agriculture approved the import of the animals immediately after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) took office on May 20.
Yeh said the pandas would draw an estimated 6 million visitors to the Taipei Zoo in the first year. Statistics provided by the zoo showed that 4.98 million visitors came to the zoo in 1999 after koala bears were brought from Australia, 5.79 million people in 2000 when Taiwan brought in king penguins, and 5.47 million in 2001.
The zoo has spent NT$250 million (US$8 million) constructing a three-story panda house that includes two indoor exhibition halls and an outdoor show area.
Anticipating large crowds after the pandas arrive, the zoo will ask visitors to draw numbered slips to avoid having to wait in line.
Visitors will only be allowed to spend three to five minutes in the panda house.