China to allow panda Lin Ping to remain in Thailand

Bangkok, May 2 (EFE).- Chinese officials have authorized Thailand to keep Lin Ping, a panda bear due to return to the Asian giant at the end of this month, for a while longer, the press reported Thursday.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the announcement after meeting with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Bangkok on Wednesday, the Bangkok Post reported.

Lin Ping, the first giant panda born in Thailand, was to be flown from the Chiang Mai Zoo in northern Thailand to Chengdu, a city in southeastern China, on May 27, the cuddly critter's 4th birthday.

The two countries will set a date later for Lin Ping's return to China so she can find a mate and breed, Wang said.

Lin Ping, born through artificial insemination, has become a major celebrity in Thailand, where the bear has a 24-hour television show even though she spends most of the day sleeping.

The bear is the offspring of Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui, two pandas leased by Beijing to Thailand in October 2003 for 10 years for $250,000.

The Thai zoo hopes to negotiate an extension of the panda couple's stay.

The 2004 panda count, the latest done by China, found that 1,596 of the bears were living in the wild, with experts saying that the number may have risen in the past decade.

A total of 328 pandas live in captivity.