Going gaga over Wang Wang
WHY are most people reduced to tears, or at the very least sent into childish delight at the sight of a panda?
It's a rhetorical question. It doesn't matter why we go gaga over pandas, we just do.
(Whales have the same emotional effect on most people. Watch one of those graceful giants come up close to your whale watching boat and it's knee-weakening stuff.)
Adelaide Zoo is home to Australia's only giant pandas, Wang Wang and Funi.
So overwhelming is the sight of these two big fluffy bears, almost everyone who tramps in to see them each day – and there are hundreds – is left quietly hysterical.
I say “quietly” hysterical as we are all gently warned before we enter the panda complex to be as silent as possible.
“If you shriek or make too much noise or use the flash on your camera the pandas will retreat behind the rocks and you won't see them,” is the word from the guide before the panda centre doors open, and we are all sufficiently awed at the prospect of a viewing to nod like school children in sincere agreement.
The Adelaide Zoo obtained Wang Wang and Funi for 10 years from the Bifengxia Centre in Sichuan as a co-operative agreement with China to assist in securing the survival of giant pandas.
They caused a sensation when they arrived in Adelaide in 2008 and their star appeal has not waned.
Wang Wang is the man, weighing in at more than 100kg. Funi, the woman of the house, is a little lighter at around 90kg.
Visitor numbers are carefully controlled at the zoo so as not to upset Wang Wang and Funi who, it is hoped, will one day make Australian-born babies.
The anticipation to see these bears builds from the moment you enter the zoo, but time restrictions means a wander around amongst the other animals first.
The hippos took a while to surface from their murky pond for us, but when they did the vision of the two hulking bodies slowly emerging was worth the wait.
After lining up dutifully with other eager viewers at the designated time at the panda complex, we were finally inside and there was Wang Wang padding gracefully over the rocks and posing obligingly for the crowd.
Cameras clicked furiously, children and adults pressed forward trying not to squeal with the elation of being so close to such an iconic animal. It was all quite overwhelming.
Then we moved across to the other side of the complex where Funi lay flopped belly-down on a large, warm rock, oblivious to the world. She was not going to wake up for any of us.
Estimations say there are only about 1600 mature giant pandas left in the wild.
Fortunately, Wang Wang and Funi are a good match genetically and if/when they produce, their cubs will be valuable additions to the giant panda population, not to mention the most adorable creatures on earth.
The Adelaide Zoo is very easy to get around and has good shaded picnic areas. A zoo visit always makes for a pleasant day out, but with the attraction of Wang Wang and Funi, it makes for a memorable day.