Mon, Jan 25, 2010 - Page 2 News List

Panda-monium fails to meet zoo’s attendance projections

BLACK AND WHITE Zoo records show less than half the expected number of visitors showed up to see the Chinese pandas in their expensive, specially built home

By Vincent Y. Chao  /  STAFF REPORTER

The global financial crisis was to blame for disappointing attendance figures at the Taipei Zoo’s costly panda exhibition, zoo officials said yesterday.

Zoo figures show the exhibit attracted 3.05 million visitors over the past year, compared with the original forecasts of 6 million — and far fewer than the 5.36 million visitors who went to see the koala exhibit when it opened in 1999.

The zoo attracted a total of 3.65 million visitors last year.

Taipei Zoo spokesman Chin Shih-chien (金仕謙) said that the zoo sold more than NT$130 million (US$4 million) worth of entrance tickets last year

Brushing aside city legislators’ concerns about the cost effectiveness of the panda exhibit, which cost NT$30.1 million in upkeep last year, zoo officials said the disappointing numbers were due to Taipei residents reining in their consumption expenditures.

The NT$30.1 million, almost one-third of the zoo’s annual budget, outraged some city councilors, who said the money could have been put to better use elsewhere, such as improving aging equipment.

“The Taipei City Government has spent large amounts of money bringing in and maintaining the pandas, meanwhile attendance figures are only at 54 percent,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taipei City Councilor Wu Su-yao (吳思瑤) said yesterday. “There has been a massive disparity in treatment compared with the other animals.”

“Officials need to reconsider this policy and determine if it has been effective in terms of educational or economical value, Wu said.

The two pandas, named Tuan Tuan (團團) and Yuan Yuan (圓圓) — which together mean “reunion” in Chinese — were offered by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) as gifts when former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (連戰) visited China in 2005.

Then-president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) government nixed the offer because Beijing saw the gift of the pandas as a domestic transfer.

After President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was elected in 2008, his government welcomed the offer and the pandas arrived December 2008.

The pair were unveiled to the public following a one-month quarantine and were housed in a new NT$300 million specially built facility.

Officials originally said the pandas would draw crowds exceeding both the koala exhibition and a penguin exhibit that opened in 2000 and that they planned to cap attendance numbers at 22,000 per day and allow visitors to spend a maximum of 10 minutes inside the Panda Hall.

While the Panda Hall did draw record crowds in its first few days, there were many complaints about overcrowding and the numbers quickly fell.

Zoo officials said yesterday that some of the NT $30.1 million upkeep budget was also used to buy environmentally friendly zoo-tour vehicles and to create streaming multimedia to allow people to watch the pandas online.

The said the Internet viewing access may have led many potential zoo visitors to opt to stay home and watch the pandas on-line.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CNA

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