China's goodwill gift pandas set out for Taiwan
A pair of giant pandas left their base in the mountainous southern Chinese province of Sichuan on Tuesday en route for Taiwan, a goodwill gift from Beijing and the latest sign of improving ties, Reuters reported.
Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, whose names said together mean "unite," were being driven to the provincial capital Chengdu, from where they will fly to the island of Taiwan later in the day.
Qu Chunmao, the pair's keeper at the breeding base in Ya'an, was tearful as he bade the animals farewell, Xinhua news agency said.
"I wish them a happy life in Taiwan," he said.
Before their departure the pandas had their usual breakfast -- carrots and steamed corn buns.
China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. Beijing has vowed to bring the island under mainland rule, by force if necessary, but ties have improved vastly since this year's election of China-friendly Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou.
China had offered the pandas as a goodwill gift in 2006 as part of a charm offensive after decades of saber rattling. Taiwan's then anti-China president declined the gift.
Pandas can only be found in the wild in China, where they are rebounding from the brink of extinction but not yet out of the woods, in large part because of difficulties in producing cubs.
The Taiwan zoo which will be their new home will try to mate the pair and may return any cub for tender loving care back in China, a zoo official said last month.