By SYLVIE CORBET
BEAUVAL, France (AP) — France’s first baby panda has a name four months after his birth: Chinese dignitaries and French first lady Brigitte Macron chose Yuan Meng, which fittingly means “the realization of a wish” or “accomplishment of a dream.”
A naming ceremony held on Dec. 4 at the Beauval Zoo south of Paris was an important diplomatic moment, but the young male panda had other priorities. Yuan Meng growled and jumped when zoo director Rodolphe Delord reached over his glass-walled enclosure to offer a pet.
The first lady, who was standing next to Delord, recoiled slightly, but with a smile.
Yuan Meng’s parents are on loan to Beauval from China, and the cub will be sent to a Chinese panda reserve when he is weaned.
Tradition holds that China retains the right to name panda cubs born in captivity. Brigitte Macron — considered the panda’s “godmother” — officially announced the name. Over 100 reporters attended the ceremony.
“Yuan Meng and his parents represent the bond between the countries which have a lot to share,” Macron said, who was making her first official remarks since President Emmanuel Macron took office.
The pandas “are the illustration of an always productive dialogue between our two people, who for centuries have looked at each other, listened to each other and understood each other,” the first lady said.
Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhang Yesui read a message from China’s first lady, Peng Liyuan.
“The birth of the baby panda is a symbol of the bright prospects of the Franco-Chinese relationship. I express the sincere hope that little Yuan Meng grows up in the best conditions, that he brings happiness to the French people, especially to the French children,” the message said.
There are about 1,800 pandas living in the wild in China and about 400 in captivity worldwide.
Baptiste Mulot, chief veterinarian at the Beauval Zoo, said Yuan Meng has learned to move on all fours and “he’s starting to behave really like a child, so he tries to escape from where he’s supposed to be.”
The cub was pink and hairless when he was born, weighing just 5 ounces. He spent much of his first month in an incubator. Now, he weighs almost 18 pounds and his fur has the black and white coloring for which pandas are known.
Yuan Meng’s mother, 9-year-old Huan Huan, was artificially inseminated with sperm from partner Yuan Zi this spring. Both are at Beauval on a 10-year loan from China, and their offspring officially belong to the Chinese government.
Indifferent to the excitement at the zoo on Dec. 4, they slept during their child’s naming ceremony.
Yuan Zi will probably never meet his son, since the zoo tries to respect the habits of animals in the wild.
China for decades gifted friendly nations with its unofficial national mascot in what was known as “panda diplomacy.” More recently the country has loaned pandas to zoos on commercial terms.