Cuddly ambassadors spell panda-monium for Dutch zoo

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Netherlands will welcome its first giant pandas this week at a zoo fitted out with a pagoda-style enclosure as its new centerpiece, crowning 16 years of hard lobbying by Dutch animal lovers.

To celebrate the arrival of Xing Ya and Wu Wen, the Ouwehands Zoo in the central town of Rhenen commissioned "Pandasia", a complex of buildings that will house the couple on its ground floor and a Chinese restaurant on the floor above.

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Rare, picky in their diet, and reluctant lovers, pandas are in demand from zoos all over the world, and the ceremonial bestowing of a loan panda on favored countries has become a hallmark of Chinese cultural diplomacy.

Dozens of Chinese companies contributed to the building of the new enclosure.

"I think it'll be a major attraction," said Lisette, a visitor undeterred by the higher entrance fee the zoo will now charge. "I can imagine the costs it has to taken to make it happen - they have to get something in return."

Ouwehands is hoping the cuddly ambassadors will one day produce cubs - though zoos around the world have discovered that few things in nature are harder than getting pandas to breed.

Xing Ya and Wu Wen will be quarantined for several weeks before being transferred to their enclosure, likely in late May, the zoo said.

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