China’s giant pandas witness Paris Olympic torch relay – World News


Beauval ZooParc Director Rodolphe Delord (right) passes the torch to Maud Fontenoy in front of giant pandas “Yuanzi” and “Huanhuan” at Beauval ZooParc in Saint-Aignan, France, on July 8, 2024.

What happens when China’s beloved giant panda encounters the Olympic torch relay? “Yuanzi,” a giant panda living in France, perhaps says, “I don’t quite understand the torch relay. Let me hide and see what’s going on.”

This amusing scene unfolded on Monday during the Paris Olympic torch relay in the Loir-et-Cher department. The first stop was the renowned Beauval ZooParc, the only zoo in France with giant pandas. In 2012, pandas “Huanhuan” and “Yuanzi” arrived here, marking a new chapter in Sino-French cultural exchanges.

The zoo director Rodolphe Delord was the first torchbearer of the day, scheduled to hand over the torch to the second bearer, Maud Fontenoy, in front of “Yuanzi.”

While Fontenoy waited with the torch, “Yuanzi” quietly munched on bamboo. However, as Delord approached with the crowd cheering, feeling “something unusual,” Yuanzi suddenly dropped the bamboo and ran to a hidden spot, calmly observing the situation. Despite the keepers’ efforts to lure him out, he refused to participate in this historic moment, and his cute demeanor elicited laughter from the onlookers.

“This is the nature of animals. Giant pandas always do as they please. But such moments are always very touching. This morning we saw their ‘twin’ daughters, but they didn’t seem fully awake and were not very active,” Delord said, understanding Yuanzi’s reluctance.

“Carrying the torch at Beauval Zoo is a great honor and a very significant moment. The Olympic flame symbolizes peace and friendship, and the pandas here symbolize the peace and friendship between China and France, especially in this special year, the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France,” Delord proudly said.

Delord told reporters that the connection between China and France regarding pandas dates back over a century. French missionary Father Armand David discovered the panda in Sichuan in 1869, completing its scientific discovery.

Since “Huanhuan” and “Yuanzi” arrived at Beauval Zoo, their first baby, “Yuanmeng,” was born in 2017, followed by female twins “Huanlili” and “Yuandudu” in 2021. The family of five has become the zoo’s stars. According to Delord, since the arrival of the pandas in 2012, the zoo’s annual visitors have increased from 600,000 to two million, with the increased revenue used for better animal protection.

In 2023, “Yuanmeng,” nearly six years old, was sent back to China to avoid inbreeding. French First Lady Brigitte Macron saw him off at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Delord mentioned that during his visit to China in February this year, he specifically went to see “Yuanmeng.”

The twins “Huanlili” and “Yuandudu,” who stayed with their parents, were named through an online poll by over 100,000 netizens. “Huanlili” takes “Huan” from her mother’s name “Huanhuan,” and “Lili” from the pronunciation of “Paris” in Chinese. “Yuandudu” takes “Yuan” from his father “Yuanzi,” and “Dudu” refers to “Chengdu.”

Notably, French football star Kylian Mbappe and Chinese Olympic diving champion Zhang Jiaqi attended the naming ceremony, becoming the “namers” of the twin pandas. Their bond with sports started early.

“Sports have a unique cohesion, and I believe that through sports, the friendship between France and China can be strengthened. This friendship is solid and enduring. On the 60th anniversary of the diplomatic relations, we need to make this friendship even stronger,” Delord said.

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