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Ueno Zoo fears visitor numbers will fall after panda's death

Tokyo's Ueno Zoo has expressed concern that the death of its only giant panda Wednesday might result in a fall in visitor numbers.

While about 3.5 million people visit the zoo each year, many of them came to see the panda. The zoo is therefore considering ways prevent a decline in the number of visitors by using a panda enclosure to house other animals and continuing to sell items related to pandas.

The 22-year-old Ling Ling died of heart failure Wednesday, leaving the zoo without panda for the first time in 36 years, when Kang Kang and Lan Lan were given to the zoo by China.

"Ling Ling made a great contribution to the zoo by attracting lots of visitors. From now on, I hope other animals will play his role," said Teruyuki Komiya, director of the zoo.

Photos of Ling Ling have been put up in the panda enclosure, and a visitors' register has been set out for visitors to sign.

While on weekends and holidays about 40,000 people came to the zoo per day, the Golden Week holidays apparently has helped push up the number of visitors, and it is unclear if the zoo can attract a similar number of visitors after the holidays without a pandas.

The zoo, therefore, is currently focusing on how to use the panda enclosure, including exhibiting lesser pandas there and changing the way in which animals are exhibited so visitors can see them more closely.

The zoo has decided not to remove a large stuffed panda toy that many people are photographed with, which is sited near the zoo's entrance, because it hopes to take delivery of another panda in the future.

Shops in the zoo will keep selling items featuring pandas, such as keyrings.

The death of the panda just before a summit meeting is to be held between Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday, has led some to speculate that the leaders might discuss the loan of another panda to the zoo. However, even if an agreement is reached at the meeting, it will take more than a year for new pandas to be delivered to Japan, according to a Tokyo metropolitan government official.

"It's not Ueno Zoo without a panda. I really hope a panda can be sent here soon," a head zookeepers said.

(May. 3, 2008)
AP News
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