Oakland Zoo makes play to get pandas

August 28, 2009 7:31:10 PM PDT
The Oakland Zoo is all about getting up close, and personal with nature.

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It is the kind of place that might bring you nose to nose with an otter, and if Executive Director Joel Barrett makes good on his dream, a lot more than that.

"I have a half of a filing cabinet drawer on just panda," Barrett said.

Barrett is talking about a paper trail of giant panda protocol and his quest to have China send the Oakland Zoo a mating pair.

He is closer than ever, as the zoo finishes a $1 million home for the creatures. It could be the kind of exhibit that puts zoos on maps.

ABC7: "Did you think you would have a giant panda by now?"

Barrett: "We knew we couldn'thave it until we finished the project."

Oakland's zoo has spent almost a decade on the project, and now has a tangible panda palace to show the Chinese government that it means business.

The pandas will have tall grass, climbing towers, and all the bamboo they can -- which is quite a lot.

"The giant pandas eat 30 pounds of bamboo per day per panda, and on top of that, you have to give them 45 pounds because 15 of it, they may not want to eat," Barrett said.

Only 1,800 giant pandas remain in the world. They are a species endangered by humans, and loss of habitat.

Any pandas that might come to live at the Oakland Zoo would enjoy water falling from a 13-foot high, sculpted concrete wall.

"Sometimes you could just use sheer wall, but this is so much more aesthetic," Barrett said.

Behind the rock wall, there is a state of the art panda house, where the pandas could stay on hot days, or at night, or in bad weather. It includes a nursery for any bears born. However, if that does happen, the Chinese government will be the ones to name them.

"They belong to China, as it should be, because we're just supporting their program," Barrett said.

Now, it's a matter of more paperwork, and hoping for favorable political winds. Barrett is not making promises, quite yet, but predictions? Yes.

ABC7: "If you're a betting man?"

Barrett: "Two years."

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