MOSCOW, June 5. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Wednesday took part in a ceremony to hand over two giant pandas to the Moscow Zoo.
A new enclosure was built to house a three-year-old male named Ru Yi and a two-year-old female named Ding Ding.
In the wake of bilateral talks, Putin thanked Xi Jinping for the Chinese government’s decision to hand over two pandas to the Moscow Zoo, describing it as a gesture of respect and trust.
"I would like to thank Mr. Xi Jinping and all Chinese officials for handing over two giant pandas to the Moscow Zoo. We know that this practice is virtually non-existent in China, and this is a sign of particular respect and trust in Russia and our specialists," he said.
According to Putin, pandas "always bring smiles to people’s faces."
"We accept this gift with huge respect and gratitude. Those animals are a national symbol of China, and we appreciate this token of friendship," the Russian leader added.
The giant panda, a rare animal listed in the IUCN Red List, is China’s unofficial symbol. As of late 2013, a total of 1,864 giant pandas lived in the wild in China. They mostly inhabit the mountainous forests of Sichuan, feeding on bamboo shoots that grow there in abundance.
Earlier, the Moscow Zoo joined a program for panda conservation, protection and research. In 2016, the zoo administration asked China to send several pandas to Moscow as part of the program.
Two young pandas were handed over by China to Russia during the April visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Beijing. This event was dedicated to the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of establishing bilateral diplomatic relations. The move made Russia the 18th country in the world where pandas can be found in captivity.
The pandas will spend 15 years in Russia as part of a joint research project aimed at studying the ways of preserving the animals and the possibility of returning them into the wild. For this, scientists need to learn about their diets, ensure breeding prospects and help them fight diseases.
Under the project, working groups from Chinese natural reserves will travel to Russia on a regular basis to conduct joint research endeavors and organize additional training programs for Moscow specialists. Earlier, six Moscow Zoo specialists, including zoologists, zookeepers and veterinarians, came to China for a month to undergo training on taking care of the animals.
The animals will remain the property of the Chinese government, and their offspring, if any, will also belong to China.
The Soviet Union and China have a history of so-called "panda diplomacy". China first sent a giant panda to the Soviet Union in 1957 as a token of good relations between the two states.