Two giant pandas arrive in Belgium on loan from China

This picture taken on Feb 22, 2014, shows Belgian officials meeting giant panda Hao Hao prior to a ceremony to send off Xing Hui and Hao Hao at the China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Pandas in Dujiangyan, Sichuan province. Two gian
This picture taken on Feb 22, 2014, shows Belgian officials meeting giant panda Hao Hao prior to a ceremony to send off Xing Hui and Hao Hao at the China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Pandas in Dujiangyan, Sichuan province. Two giant pandas, on loan from China for the next 15 years, arrived in Belgium on Sunday to an official welcome party led by Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo. -- PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Two giant pandas, on loan from China for the next 15 years, arrived in Belgium on Sunday to an official welcome party led by Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.

The pandas, each weighing over 110kg, landed around midday (1100 GMT) at Brussels airport after their journey in a pagoda-style cage onboard a cargo plane.

Hao Hao, a four-year-old female whose name means "Friendly", and Xing Hui ("Shining Star"), a male of the same age, emerged to find around 100 journalists and dozens of children from a nearby school waiting to greet them.

The new arrivals were then given a police escort to the Pairi Daiza zoo in the town of Brugellette, 60km outside Brussels.

Entry tickets to the zoo were entirely sold out on Sunday, even though zookeepers had warned that Hao Hao and Xing Hui will not be making any public appearances until they have acclimatised and finished a period in quarantine, due to end on April 5.

The zoo has spent some 10 million euros (S$17 million) to prepare a vast enclosure for its new stars in its "China Garden", comprising a pool, cave and bamboo plantation.

The Belgian press has also reported that one million euros per year is being paid as "rent" for the pandas, which have been a valuable tool of diplomacy and revenue collection for China over the years.

Giant pandas are an endangered species, with only 1,600 left in the wild in China and 300 in captivity around the world.