Panda fever grips Chiang Mai, Thailand
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Panda fever grips Chiang Mai, Thailand

What’s black and white and makes the news every day? No, not a newspaper. It’s Linping, the Chiang Mai panda cub.

In the short five months of her life, Linping has captured the hearts of the people of this sleepy city in Northern Thailand. Tune into the local Chiang Mai news and you will see, without fail, a daily update on Linping’s progress – the Thai equivalent of ‘Panda Watch’.

It may not be official yet, but the panda has effectively become the symbol of Chiang Mai, previously famed for its old medieval moat and traditional Lanna culture. Everywhere you look you will find pandas. Fill up your car with petrol and you get a free panda cuddly toy, or at the very least some panda stickers. Panda statues have already sprung up along the city streets and virtually every billboard around town seems to have a panda in there somewhere.

The true extent of Chiang Mai’s panda fever became evident recently when armed robbers targeted a petrol station in the region. Spurning the riches that lay inside the cash till, they instead made off with a, yes you’ve guessed it, stuffed Panda.

Even at her tender age, Linping has made an auspicious start to life at her home in Chiang Mai Zoo. In addition to daily visits by local television crews, Linping has attracted hundreds of thousands of eager visitors to what was previously a fairly unremarkable zoo.

Linping’s short life has been remarkable for a number of reasons. On May 27 of this year the yet-to-be-named panda hit the international headlines when she was born in Chiang Mai Zoo. She was only the third panda to be born in captivity outside China as they are notoriously hard to breed. In fact, so desperate were the zookeepers to get Linping’s parents Xuang Xaung and Lin Hui to mate that they even tried panda porn. 

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Linping’s parents Xuang Xaung and Lin Hui (pictured) – not even panda porn would work!

When that failed they turned to artificial insemination which succeeded at the second attempt, though with Linping the term ‘unexpected pregnancy’ was taken to a whole new level. Zoo staff were completely oblivious to the fact that Lin Hui was pregnant until Linping was born.

Since then, Linping has been regarded as a local, if not national, treasure. A competition to choose the new panda’s name was launched shortly after her birth drawing over 22 million votes, with Linping (Chinese for ‘winter forest’) being the most popular. A young girl from Sakhon Nakhon won the THB 1 million ($30,000) prize draw – a small fortune for many people in Thailand.

In early July she was unveiled to the public at Chiang Mai Zoo, attracting thousands of visitors and has stolen the hearts of residents and tourists ever since.

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Local students dress up as pandas at Linping’s unveiling at Chiang Mai zoo.

Watch this space for the next edition of Panda Watch.