People look at the female giant panda cub Xiang Xiang at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo on June 23, 2020, on the first day of its re-opening after nearly a four-month closure due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. (STR/Jiji Press/AFP/File)
A Tokyo zoo on Tuesday opened to the public a new giant panda enclosure that mimics the mammals' natural habitat in Sichuan Province in southwestern China.
The "Panda no Mori" (Panda's Forest) enclosure in Ueno Zoological Gardens is home to the 15-year-old couple Shin Shin and Ri Ri. Their 3-year-old cub Xiang Xiang, born in June 2017, remains in her original facility, separate from her parents.
The new compound dotted with trees, boulders and caves occupies some 6,800 square meters, nearly three times the space of the original enclosure, which was built in 1988.
Guests took pictures and filmed the outdoor sections of the new enclosure, but were told they could not take photos of the panda couple until they become accustomed to their new home.
"Shin Shin looked happy to be in an environment similar to the wild," said artist Megumi Aga, 55, from Chiba Prefecture, who was among the first visitors to the new enclosure.
Yasumasa Tomita, deputy head of the zoo, said the new panda home is equipped with facilities to help breed and take care of cubs. "We are ready for baby pandas to be born at any time," he said.
China retains ownership of Xiang Xiang as well as her parents, who were sent to Japan in 2011 under a 10-year lease agreement.
To avoid the spread of the coronavirus, the zoo currently limits the number of visitors to 6,500 per day based on prior reservations.