EXCLUSIVE: Giant panda gift from one Olympic city to another
A loveable giant panda called Wal-zhi is on its way to Newham and is set to take centre-stage at next year’s Olympics.
The four-year old male has been given to Newham Council by leaders in Beijing as a gesture of goodwill.
The authority is now discussing with Olympic bosses whether he can play a role in the opening ceremony, which will be watched by an audience of billions.
Council chiefs, who are expecting to take delivery of Wal-zhi later this month, are also talking to London Zoo about how best to house him.
The rare panda is due to be flown to London City Airport in a plane which has been specially chartered from the Chinese capital, which hosted the Olympics in 2008.
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Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales said: “This is a wonderful gesture by the Chinese government. Wal-zhi is set to take the Olympics by storm and we have been told he could attract half a million visitors a year.
“We were planning to house Wal-zhi at our Newham City Farm, just a javelin throw from the Olympic Park in Stratford.
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“However, we have been advised by animal experts that transporting lorry loads of bamboo to Newham might be tricky.”
Sir Robin said the council was looking into sending an animal that symbolises East London to Rio de Janeiro, where the 2016 Games will take place.
He said: “We are inviting suggestions from our residents. Jellied eels are, of course, a great tradition in this neck of the woods.
“An idea might be to get the artist Damien Hirst to pickle an eel in Formaldehyde. We could then display this at one of our libraries. The possibilities are limitless.”
There are only about 1,000 giant pandas left in the wild. They typically feed on 28 pounds of bamboo each day.