‘Hard to say goodbye’: Fans bid farewell to Le Le in panda’s last public appearance , Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

‘Hard to say goodbye’: Fans bid farewell to Le Le in panda’s last public appearance

Mr Tie Boon Ping arrived at River Wonders at 8am on Dec 13, the eighth day in a row that he has come to the wildlife park in Mandai.  

The 57-year-old operations director is here to catch one last glimpse of Le Le, the first panda cub born on Singapore’s shores.

It is Le Le’s last public appearance. On Dec 14, Le Le will no longer be on display as he begins a 4½-week quarantine, before he takes a plane to China on Jan 16, 2024.

Visitors started trickling in as early as 8am even though River Wonders, where Le Le is housed along with his parents Kai Kai and Jia Jia, opens at 10am.

“I woke up at 4.30am before my alarm at 5.15am, I am very excited to see Le Le today,” Mr Tie told The Straits Times. 

“I can’t bear to see him go but deep down, I feel happy that he is going back to his parents’ hometown.”

Mr Tie first saw the panda cub in January 2022 and has been visiting him almost every week since.

“He is so adorable… it feels therapeutic to see him,” said Mr Tie, adding that he has visited seven zoos and wildlife parks this year in countries like South Korea and China to see giant pandas. 

Some visitors took the extra effort to dress up for the occasion by sporting panda T-shirts.

Another long-time fan of Le Le, Ms Choo Jia Le, compared the panda cub’s departure to the loss of a family member.

“It’s very sad and hard to say goodbye to him knowing that I can no longer see him in Singapore,” said the civil servant who is in her early 30s.

Ms Choo has been visiting Le Le weekly since January 2022 and on public holidays as a pastime and a way to unwind from work. 

She told ST her favourite moments of Le Le included seeing him tumble down the slopes in the exhibit, and running to the den when it was meal time.

“He has been a ray of hope through the darkest moments of the pandemic… This will definitely not be the last time I’ll see him,” said Ms Choo, who plans to visit China next year in a bid to see Le Le again.

At about 9.40am, at the Pavilion Capital Giant Panda Forest, the door between Le Le’s den and the exhibit opened. The star of the day took ginger steps as he entered the exhibit Pto clicks of cameras from the media.

Le Le then made his way to the centre of the exhibit where a decorative banner depicting a Singapore Airlines boarding pass with his photo on it was on display.

He then plopped himself in a comfortable sitting position and started chomping away on bamboo, before exploring again.

There were also decorative paper planes and boxes wrapped like suitcases, which Le Le eventually opened and found treats like bamboo inside.

Speaking to the media, Mr Mike Barclay, group chief executive of Mandai Wildlife Group, said: “Le Le has also been a wonderful ambassador for his species, helping to raise awareness regarding the threats that giant pandas face in the wild, and allowing us to highlight the excellent work being undertaken in China to conserve his species.”

He recalled the day when Mandai’s veterinarian team said that Jia Jia was pregnant, just five days before she gave birth on Aug 14, 2021. Since then, 1.8 million visitors from Singapore and around the world have visited Le Le, he added.

“We continue to be grateful that we have been entrusted to care for giant pandas and to be part of China’s global network of panda conservation programmes,” said Mr Barclay.

Ms Qin Wen, cultural counsellor of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Singapore, thanked Singapore for the love and care poured into taking care of Le Le and the giant panda family.

While Ms Qin said it is hard to say goodbye to the panda cub here, she said that Le Le will likely be in the public eye again in China by Chinese New Year in 2024.

Le Le was born to giant pandas Jia Jia and Kai Kai on Aug 14, 2021. He is the first and only cub born to both pandas since the pair arrived in Singapore in 2012 on loan from China. It took them seven attempts to conceive the cub.

Under the terms of Chinese panda loan agreements, cubs born on foreign soil are generally returned to China when they turn two.

China loans these animals to other countries as a goodwill gesture, an effort that has become popularly known as “panda diplomacy”.

Meanwhile, Jia Jia and Kai Kai’s stay in Singapore was extended in 2022 for five more years until 2027 under an agreement signed by China Wildlife Conservation Association and Mandai Wildlife Group.

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