Lun Lun rested Thursday on top of a bed of logs, basking in the sunlight as her playmate, Yang Yang, curled up in an alcove. The two giant pandas were unaware of just how much excitement their arrival at Zoo Atlanta has generated.
But while the main attractions may be oblivious, zoo officials are not. Organizers are preparing for at least 10,000 visitors Saturday, the first day of public panda viewing. A typical fall Saturday usually brings in a crowd of about 3,000.
School children visiting the zoo Thursday stared longingly at the panda pavilion, hoping someone would offer them a sneak peek at the cuddly critters.
"We hoped to see them today, but it looks like we came two days too early," said Sandy Williams, who was chaperoning a group of third-graders on a field trip from Chapman Elementary School in Woodstock.
The giant pandas, which arrived from China two weeks ago, have about an acre and a half to roam at the zoo. The bears have adapted well to their new environment, said Rebecca Snyder, Zoo Atlanta's senior research associate, who has spent the last two years studying Lun Lun and Yang Yang in China.
"They are very familiar with each other and very playful," she said.
When the pandas first arrived at the zoo, Yang Yang seemed sleepy and tired, but a curious Lun Lun wanted to explore. She would get lonely and try to rouse her playmate by jumping or walking on him.
Apparently, Lun Lun's efforts did the trick. It was only a few days before both pandas were climbing, hugging and playing, Snyder said.
The pandas will stay in Atlanta for at least 10 years as part of a reproduction research project.
"They're buddies," said Rich Sartor, the zoo's assistant curator of large mammals. "They won't let the other get too far away for too long. They're security blankets for each other."
Zoo Atlanta will open Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and close at 4:30 p.m. In order to avoid long lines, visitors will be given tickets telling them what time they should arrive at the panda exhibit to view the animals. About 60 people will be allowed into the exhibit at one time for about 12 minutes of viewing.
"We're asking people to be patient," said zoo spokeswoman Lisa Cabaniss, adding that the assigned viewing times will probably continue through the duration of the pandas' stay. "There are people who won't see them [Saturday]. But the zoo is a wonderful place. Take advantage of seeing some of the other animal displays."
Terry Maple, the zoo's president, said the zoo's famous silverback gorilla, Willie B., "wants me to remind you that he's still here."
But for now, it's the pandas that are getting all the attention. An Internet site featuring live images of the rare bears is averaging about 150,000 hits a day, zoo officials said. Gift shops are stocked full of stuffed pandas, panda T-shirts and panda tos.
Maple summed up the atmosphere in one word: "pandamonium."
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