Giant panda Fu Bao ups sticks from South Korea to China

By Hyun Young Yi and Hyonhee Shin
Updated March 3 2024 - 9:40pm, first published 9:36pm
Giant panda Fu Bao, born in South Korea, is relocating to China for breeding before she turns four. (AP PHOTO)
Giant panda Fu Bao, born in South Korea, is relocating to China for breeding before she turns four. (AP PHOTO)

A South Korean zoo has thrown a farewell party for Fu Bao, the first giant panda born in the country, ahead of the beloved animal's scheduled return to China.

Fu Bao, which means lucky treasure, has attracted a huge fan base since she was born in July 2020 at the Everland amusement park south of Seoul.

The panda is set to relocate to China's Sichuan province in April after spending a month in quarantine.

The move is part of an international agreement that giant panda cubs born abroad relocate to China for breeding before turning four.

Thousands of visitors queued in the cold early on Sunday to attend the farewell event, with many saying they would miss the panda.

"I was mentally ill three years ago, but Fu Bao has helped me get through it and brought me a lot of comfort," visitor Kim Min-ji, 31, said.

"It's sad to say goodbye, but we need to let her go.

"I wish she goes safely and will be happy."

Jo Ah-hyeon, 24, said she waited more than four hours to see Fu Bao.

"This is our last chance - you never know when we'll see her again so I had to come," she said.

Zookeeper Kang Cher-won, who has been caring for Fu Bao, said the panda had given him much love and taught him a lot about the critically endangered species.

Online videos of Kang caring for Fu Bao, and her clinging to him, have become popular in South Korea.

"Fu Bao is a friend who has played many roles," Kang said.

"She was my first panda cub, and my heart is filled with memories of her that I will never forget all my life."

The cub's parents, 10-year-old female Ai Bao and 11-year-old male Le Bao, arrived in 2016 from Sichuan province, the home of the giant pandas, as part of China's "panda diplomacy".

Ai Bao gave birth to giant panda twins in South Korea in July.

Female pandas can only conceive once a year for a limited period, and cubs have very low chances of survival as they are often born prematurely, usually weighing less than 200 grams.

Australian Associated Press