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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Qatar gets Middle East’s first pandas

Qatar became the first Middle Eastern country on Wednesday to receive Chinese giant pandas — Suhail and Soraya — who, in true Gulf fashion, took up residence in luxury air-conditioned quarters.

Crowds of children and reporters watched as the four-year-old male and three-year-old female took their first steps in a temporary enclosure in a ceremony at the Al Khor park about 50 kilometers north of Doha.

The Chinese government sent the animals as gifts to mark the World Cup that starts on November 20. China has not qualified for the event but is a major customer of Qatar’s natural gas.

Read more: Qatar’s glitzy World Cup is ready and expensive

Suhail, who weighs 130 kilograms (286 pounds), and his female partner, who is 70 kilos (154 pounds), must undergo 21 days of quarantine following their arrival along with two keepers, said Al Khor’s zoological director Tim Bouts. “In a few weeks, or in a month’s time, they will be ready to be shown to the world,” Bouts added.

Authorities have not yet said whether a new Panda House, one of the biggest enclosures anywhere, will be ready by the time the World Cup starts. Suhail and Soraya will have their own separate quarters in the Panda House.

Read more: Qatar World Cup: An unintended boon for the UAE

China’s ambassador to Qatar, Zhou Jian, said the new complex was “world-class, magnificent and comfortable”.

“I believe that these two lovely pandas will soon become the focus of love among the Qatari people, and superstars in the Middle East,” he added.

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Suhail is the name of one of the brightest stars visible in the Gulf region, while Soraya is the Arabic name for the Pleiades star cluster.

Qatar is the 20th country to be given pandas outside China and Taiwan which China’s Communist Party has never controlled but claims as its own.