* Grand welcome ceremony held at Panda House, Al Khor

A joyous mood prevailed at Panda House in Al Khor Wednesday as Suhail and Thuraya - two giant pandas gifted by China to Qatar - were presented to an eager audience.
With this, Qatar becomes the first country in the Middle East to have giant pandas, and the 20th in the world, according to the Ministry of Municipality.

The ministry, represented by the Public Parks Department, announced the arrival of the two pandas at a programme hosted Wednesday at their new habitat - Panda House in Al Khor. It was attended by schoolchildren, Qatari and Chinese officials and the media.

Star attractions

* Suhail: originally named 'Jing Jing' in the Chinese language, which means shining crystal. The male panda was born on September 19, 2018. He has been given the Arabic name of Suhail, which means star in the sky.
* Thuraya: originally named 'Si Hai', which means the four seas in Chinese. The female panda was born on July 26, 2019. She has been given the Arabic name of Thuraya, which means a group of shining stars.
These two names have great significance in Qatari culture.

The pandas have been gifted within the framework of strengthening the relationship between Qatar and China, and to celebrate Qatar's hosting of the FIFA World Cup from November 20. They will be taken care of by an international team of doctors and specialists.
Panda House is expected to become one of the most prominent tourist and leisure destinations in Qatar, attracting a large number of visitors from home and abroad, the ministry said in a statement.
Exciting had been building up in anticipation of the pandas' arrival in Qatar ever since the first announcement of the project, peaking with the news of their departure from China on Tuesday.
Carrying 'panda' stuffed toys, balloons and the Qatari and Chinese flags to mark the special occasion, the children waited patiently for the pandas Wednesday and then greeted the duo with cheers as they made their first appearance.
Suhail and Thuraya will be available for public viewing after the 21-day quarantine period is over, Public Parks Department director Mohamed Ali al-Khori said.

Chinese ambassador Zhou Jian with children at the ceremony

Addressing the ceremony, he stressed the ministry's role in building the park near Al Khor Park, Al Bayt Stadium and Al Khor-Al Thakhira Municipality in line with the highest international specifications and standards. The panda habitat is located some 35km from Doha.
With an area of 120,000sqm, Panda House has an area for panda viewing along with a shelter in addition to green areas and service buildings. A medical facility is attached to Panda House to meet the needs of the animals at all times.
“The public will have the opportunity to visit Panda House before the launch of the World Cup. Panda House has been designed by applying various specifications and configurations that provide the pandas with a habitat resembling their homeland- Minshan Mountains in the Chinese province of Sichuan. This is in order to preserve their special nature,” he said. “Convenience in terms of climatic conditions was considered while providing the required areas in addition to paths for visitors to view the pandas. Some 2,814 bamboo plants, which the pandas feed on, have been cultivated inside the facility. Some trees from Chinese forests were brought and cultivated inside the shelter."

Chinese ambassador Zhou Jian hailed the arrival of the giant pandas in Qatar and said, "The co-operation on giant panda conservation and research between China and Qatar came as an important consensus reached by President Xi Jinping and His Highness the Amir. It is also the first of its kind in the Middle East, marking a new height of China-Qatar relations and a new chapter in Chinese-Arab friendship."

Acting director of the Building Projects Department at the Public Works Authority (Ashghal), Jarallah Mohamed al-Marri, said the Panda House works were completed in co-ordination with the Ministry of Municipality. Ashghal achieved about 2mn work hours, while about 75% of the materials used were local, such as iron and steel, electrical and mechanical tools, glass and other materials.
“Panda House has been designed in line with the highest standards of quality and safety in accordance with the standards of the Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS). Design and operational considerations were applied to achieve a 3-star rating in terms of saving energy and preserving the environment,” he added.

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