London's star panda, a middle-aged male named Chia-Chia, is headed for Mexico to take a virgin bride as part of an international breeding program to boost the waning panda population, officials said.
"We'll be sorry to see Chia-Chia go," a London Zoo spokeswoman said Wednesday. "But it's for the best. Pandas don't belong to people. We're interested in doing what's best for the panda population."The zoo announced the 16-year-old panda a gift to the people of Britain from China in 1973 will be transported to the Cincinnati Zoo in the United States for three months, starting in August, for a "special appearance because Cincinnati doesn't have any pandas."
From there Chia-Chia will go to Mexico City's Chapultepec Zoo, where seven pandas have been born in captivity in one of the most successful panda breeding programs. Four of the pandas survived.
"Hopefully, he will enjoy a fruitful romance," the London Zoo spokeswoman said.
She said Chia-Chia, described as "playful and spirited" and the zoo's "star attraction," will be paired off with a 7-year-old female, Thui, and hopefully "they'll hit it off."
"Pandas normally reach sexual maturity at the age of 6 or 7 so she is just coming of age," the spokeswoman said.