Japan giant panda debut brings rare joy after quake

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Media captionCrowds flocked to see the pandas

Two giant pandas on loan from China have made their debut at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo, in front of thousands of visitors.

Female Shin Shin and male Ri Ri's first appearance was cancelled after the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March, which prompted the closure of the zoo.

The pair's coming out brought rare joy three weeks after the national tragedy that left 28,000 dead or missing.

Many people were brought in from Tokyo's evacuation centres for the event and given free entry.

''About 300 such victims are visiting the zoo. I hope (the visit) will help soothe their feelings,'' zoo director Teruyuki Komiya was quoted by Kyodo news agency.

An estimated 3,000 people queued outside the zoo, forcing it to open 15 minutes early, local media reported.

Within an hour the number of visitors had reached 8,000, zoo officials said.

Zookeepers said that when the 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck the new arrivals ran around their cages, only calming down after two hours, national broadcaster NHK reported.

The five-year-old pandas are the first to be kept at the zoo since 2008, following the death of giant panda Ling Ling.

The pair came from a breeding centre in China's Sichuan Province, and are being rented by the Tokyo metropolitan government for $950,000 (£592,500) a year, reports say.

The money is being used to help rebuild a panda sanctuary in Sichuan that was nearly destroyed in a 2008 earthquake, and to fund panda breeding projects run jointly by Japan and China.

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