Japan-born giant panda Xiang Xiang adjusts to life in China

Giant panda Xiang Xiang has a legion of fans who are eager to follow her progress as she adapts to her new life. Born at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo in 2017, she was raised there until February of this year when she moved to China under an ownership agreement between the two countries. Reporters were invited to see how the adorable six-year-old is faring at a panda facility in Sichuan Province.

Meet and greet

Xiang Xiang approaches with steady steps.

A female giant panda, Xiang Xiang, now living in China's Sichuan Province

She sits on the floor, grabs an apple, her favorite food, and takes a bite. She looks satisfied, and unconcerned by the reporters peering at her through the glass.

Xiang Xiang eats an apple.

After devouring the apple, she moves on to bamboo shoots. In no time, peels are piling up on her stomach. Xiang Xiang has a hearty appetite and looks to be in good health.

Xiang Xiang enjoys eating bamboo shoots.

Panda central

Xiang Xiang's new home is at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Ya'an, Sichuan Province. The area is believed to be home to more than 70 percent of the approximately 1,800 pandas in the wild.

It was a long journey to get there: a six-hour flight from Tokyo to Chengdu, the capital, followed by a two-hour drive from the airport.

Xiang Xiang now lives at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda.

The 400-hectare facility is nestled in lush green mountains. There are about 60 pandas in residence that are cared for and protected.

There are many other pandas at the facility.

Xiang Xiang was shown to the public in October, about eight months after her arrival.

Xiang Xiang was shown to the public in October 2023.

She enjoys a near-natural environment with endless supplies of fresh bamboo and apples. On an information board, her name is written in Chinese and her birthplace is also noted.

An information board shows Xiang Xiang's name, and notes her birthplace as Japan.

Difficult start

Zookeeper Zhao Lanlan is in charge of Xiang Xiang's care. She said it took the Japan-born panda some time to settle in.

"Xiang Xiang has a slightly timid personality. She needed time to adapt to her environment. When she was isolated for quarantine, she seemed to be under a lot of stress. She was running back and forth, and sometimes she did not eat her food. At that time, it was difficult to placate her."

Zookeeper Zhao Lanlan takes care of Xiang Xiang.

Building trust

As Xiang Xiang struggled to adjust, zoo officials decided to keep everyone except Zhao away from her, and give her space and time. Zhao says the panda now responds to Chinese words.

"I tried to help Xiang Xiang get used to me and this environment by interacting with her verbally for long periods each day," Zhao explains. "We were together every day and interacted face to face.
"At first, when she saw me, she turned away and ran, but now she faces me and eats her meals. When I call out to her when she is outdoors, she comes back to the hut. This proves I have built a trusting relationship with Xiang Xiang over time."

Xiang Xiang is gradually getting used to her new environment.

Public debut

Zhao wanted to ensure that Xiang Xiang would not be overly stressed when she made her public debut. Officials waited until after a national holiday on October 1 that attracts crowds.

Xiang Xiang now appears to accustomed to her surroundings. Each day she consumes 16 kilograms of bamboo, six kilograms of bamboo shoots, and 400 grams of apples.

Breeding plans

According to Ueno Zoo, the best age for a female giant panda to breed is from around three or four years old to around 20. Xiang Xiang, born in June 2017, is already six. Reporters asked if there were any potential partners.

"This needs to be coordinated at the national level," explains Zhao. "We will decide what kind of breeding pair would be suitable, considering genetics. But she is not in heat at the moment and we do not have any information to offer."

People are curious about whether Xiang Xiang will find a breeding partner.

Open invitation

Many people in Japan are still interested in Xiang Xiang's welfare.

"Xiang Xiang was very much in the spotlight before she came to China, and since her release, many fans have been coming to see her every day," says Zhao. "We are taking good care of her and she is in very good condition, so please rest assured. And when you have time, please come and see her in person!"

Xiang Xiang is in good health.