The panda saga from Beauval Zoo

She thought it would be impossible, but she did it anyway. The saga of the pandas at Beauval Zoo could fit into this paraphrase of Mark Twain’s quote. “It was my mother’s dream to present giant pandas,” Rodolphe Delord recalls. This dream, Françoise Delord, the creator of the zoo a little over 40 years ago, has finally fulfilled it. Not without difficulty, with many political relays, up to the highest peak of the state.

national treasure

Because the plantigrade is also a tool for international relations. And such a sign that China is developing a real “panda diplomacy”

. “This animal is a double symbol,” says Rodolphe Delord, today in charge of this company, which weighs 72 million euros in turnover. It is emblematic of animals threatened with extinction. It is not for nothing that the WWF took it “as its logo. It is also a diplomatic symbol. The panda is a national treasure. Leaving it to a country is a very strong sign of friendship and a reflection of the state of Sino-French relations at any given time.”

It was therefore necessary for the discussions to take place “from president to president”. And it was a sinophile president who sent the first letter of his last term: Jacques Chirac. The support of another connoisseur of China, former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, and former Loir-et-Cher deputy Patrice Martin Lalande, has done much for the arrival of the pandas, an arrival concluded by Nicolas Sarkozy.

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Biodiversity and diplomacy: the panda is a double symbol

“He really took care of it,” Rodolphe Delord recalls. And the final agreement was sealed over the phone between the two presidents (Hu Jintao at the time of China Ed). The contract was signed at the French Embassy in Beijing in December 2011. “

It stipulates that the pandas are lent to France for 10 years at a cost of 750,000 euros per year (read below). The babies, including Yuan Meng, the first panda born in France in 2017, and the twins, born Monday in Beauval, are destined to return to China after four years. Due to the health crisis, Yuan Meng will first fly to China in 2022.

Births of baby pandas in Beauval zoo: the story of a happy event

Presidential Debate

The arrival of the pandas Huan Huan (“Joyful”) and Yuan Zi (“Rubber”) on January 15, 2012, aroused extraordinary popularity and media enthusiasm. A Boeing cargo ship had been chartered specifically for the occasion and brought only the two animals plus Rodolphe Delord.

Since then, Nicolas Sarkozy has come to see them, as has his successor, François Hollande. And Brigitte Macron became Yuan Meng’s godmother in 2017. As for Rodolphe Delord, he accompanied Emmanuel Macron to China in 2019, where the French president, between the issue of human rights and trade agreements, negotiated an extension of the pandas’ presence in France. “Today, relations between embassies are constant and the lights are green,” says Rodolphe Delord.

Back in pictures about the birth of baby pandas at Beauval Zoo

The birth of babies on Monday is another chapter in the saga of pandas in France.
Arnauld Pasquier

The panda as a diplomatic weapon has already been used by China. Pandas arrived in the United States after Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China (1972).

A symbol of the development of the zoo

The arrival of the pandas has made the zoo another dimension. When it was created in 1980, what was not yet Beauval Zoopark, year after year, attracted 40,000 visitors, curious to observe … birds.

The trip was taken in 1989, by transforming the place into a zoo. First bingo. The zoo multiplies its visit by ten in 20 years. And continues to invest despite a context of economic crisis. Successful strategy: 600,000 people visit the park every year between 2008 and 2011.

It was then that the diplomatic efforts to welcome pandas in France paid off. The specifications are extremely stringent. For example, it first instructs to build their future house, air conditioning, as well as an outdoor enclosure, which must be crossed by a river or to install an artificial fog mechanism, to recreate the conditions in the humid mountains of China, explains Delphine Pouvreau, caretaker responsible for the pandas .

Beauval Zoo spends five million euros on building “the Heights of China”, a scenography that combines pagodas, Chinese statues, enclosures and a large shelter for various Asian species. The decor was not built in vain. Beauval finally welcomed black and white bears in 2012. The number of visitors jumped to one million the same year.

“Unique exhibition”

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