While most people were taking a holiday break, Taipei Zoo’s star attraction — panda cub Yuan Zai (圓仔) — had to show up for work 30 minutes early yesterday on the first day of the Lunar New Year.
Thanks in part to the sunny weather, more than 3,500 people were at the zoo before 9am yesterday, marking the highest number of tickets issued by the zoo for the panda enclosure in the first half-hour of opening since Yuan Zai’s public debut on Jan. 6, the zoo said.
After closing for a day on Thursday, the zoo will be open throughout the Lunar New Year holiday. Visiting hours have been extended, starting half an hour earlier at 8:30am and closing at 5:30pm, until Tuesday.
Commuters can take the Panda Express 123 shuttle bus for free until Feb. 9, according to the Taipei City Government. Buses depart from the Taipei City Hall MRT station and Taipei Zoo MRT station every 10 to 15 minutes.
Motorists can park for free in front of city hall by having their parking tickets stamped at the zoo, the city government said.
To ease congestion at the zoo, officials decided to move forward the opening time for the panda exhibition from 9:10am to 8:40am, as well as increase the maximum number of visitors allowed from 19,200 to 20,400.
Tickets to the panda exhibition are issued at the gate, zoo spokesman Chao Ming-chieh (趙明杰) said. Visitors can check the time on the ticket to see when they can go inside the exhibition hall. Only 400 visitors are allowed in each time, and are given 10 minutes to see the pandas.
However, visitors need to keep in mind that Yuan Zai is asleep almost 70 percent of the day, so most of the time the only thing they would be able to see is its round white behind, zoo officials said.
The panda cub is typically more active around 9am to 11am and 4pm to 5pm, it added.
Meanwhile, the city’s economic development department has authorized the sale of a broad range of products modeled after Yuan Zai, including stationery, pillows, clothes, cellphone cases, tablet computer leather cases and Taipei EasyCards.
“We would like visitors to the zoo not only to visit Yuan Zai over the Lunar New Year holidays, but also to take it back home with them,” department officials said.