Prague zoo receives Taiwanese pangolins after fallout with China

PRAGUE (AP) — The Prague Zoo has presented a pair of critically endangered Chinese pangolins to the public. It is only the second animal park on the European continent to have animals.

The arrival of the rare acquisition from Taiwan follows a political fallout with China that prevented the expected arrival of a pair of giant pandas.

Guo Bao, the male pangolin, and Run Hou Tang, the female, are from Taipei Zoo, the main breeder of mammals heavily hunted for their scales and meat.

It is estimated that nearly 200,000 were trafficked in 2019 because of the scales used in traditional medicine in Asia and elsewhere.

A few years ago, the Czech capital expected to receive pandas after signing a partnership agreement with the Chinese capital in 2016.

But those hopes were dashed just three years later when Prague decided to revoke the twinning deal with Beijing, a move that angered China.

Prague made the move after Beijing rejected a request to remove a clause from the agreement that states Prague supports the one-China principle, which does not recognize Taiwan as an independent nation.

The Czech government recognizes the one-China principle, but Prague officials said they want to focus on cultural cooperation, not politics.

Relations with China were further strained in 2020 when Prague signed a similar twinning agreement with the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, an agreement that also included cooperation between zoos in the two cities.

Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib said cities share democratic values, respect for fundamental human rights and cultural freedoms and can therefore inspire each other.

Taiwan split from mainland China amid a civil war in 1949, but Beijing considers the self-governing island part of its territory.

The visit of the Speaker of the Upper House of the Czech Parliament to Taipei and Taiwanese government ministers to Prague has been condemned by the Chinese government.

Prague Zoo director Miroslav Bobek said his focus was on the animals.

“Sometimes the arrival of pangolins is commented that they are here instead of pandas,” Bobek said Thursday. “I don’t quite see it that way, although of course that’s a possible interpretation. For us, they are ambassadors of the wilderness, ambassadors of the pangolins who still live in the wild. In the same way , if we were to have the giant pandas here, they would be a symbol of the protection of endangered species.

Berta D. Wells