Eight "Olympic Pandas" nominated by netizens to add cheer to the games this summer met the public on Thursday morning at the Beijing Zoo.
The display featuring the endangered animals was launched in a special ceremony.
Enthusiastic visitors queued to buy tickets to the renovated panda hall and took pictures from outside the newly expanded glass enclosure, where wooden toy trees, a mural and swimming pools create a homey environment. The pandas live in three pens held at a constant temperature, similar to their natural habitat.
"They are lovely!" said an American tourist Terry Swingler. "We have seen one, but we've never seen so many together."
The 2-year-old cubs, flown from quake-stricken Sichuan Province last month, were expected to attract 6 million domestic and foreign tourists during their six-month show in the capital.
They were selected by netizens from among 16 candidates at the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center in Wolong Town, only 30 km from the epicenter of the devastating May 12 earthquake.
Experts with the center said the pandas had recovered from nervousness about the quake and are all in good condition.
"We always pat them gently, talk with them in the Sichuan dialect and maintain eye contact so it could be easier for them to adapt when transplanted into a new residence," said Wu Daifu, one of the four center keepers who accompanied the pandas to Beijing.
The keepers, who sleep in the same building with the pandas, will take care of them during their stay in Beijing.
"To keep a close eye on their activities at night, we take shifts to monitor them through video cameras," Wu said.
The Wolong base sustained severe damage from the powerful quake. Five staff at the base were killed.
Two pandas were injured and six went missing, of which five have been found.
"It's unknown whether the quake would have an adverse effect on the pandas' breeding," said Wang Pengyan, vice director of the base. "We have been collecting information about the pandas since the disaster."
Wang said the base would not move out of Wolong despite the damage.
"The biggest problem we encountered is that the critical infrastructure was destroyed and it would need some time for rebuilding."
(Xinhua News Agency June 5, 2008)