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Baby pandas help Pairi Daiza break two-million visitor mark
Baby pandas and an extended winter opening have helped Pairi Daiza animal park achieve a record 2.16 million visitors last season, management have said.
Visitor numbers were up 10% on the previous year, breaking the two million mark for the first time.
The growth can be partly explained by the fact that the park stayed open throughout the Christmas holidays, instead of normally closing in mid-December.
It has also been an eventful year for Pairi Daiza, near Mons, with the birth this summer of twin panda cubs, Bao Di et Bao Mei.
The park closed on Sunday for a winter break and will reopen on 21 March with a new attraction: "Land of the Cold" - featuring polar bears for the first time.
The bears, on loan from an Australian zoo, will have 5,000m² of outdoor space and two water basins of 450m² and 220m².
News of their arrival led to protests by animal welfare activists last summer. Sophie Locatelli, from the association Le Rêve d'Aby, said at the time: "A polar bear can travel more than 70km a day. I cannot believe it can do the same thing at Pairi Daiza."
Pairi Daiza management say the animals will be in good hands. "We have been studying a suitable environment for several years," said Pairi Daiza operations director Jean-Jacques Cloquet. "It will be 10 times better than the required standards. This is really a setting where they will find all the natural conditions they are used to."
He added: "We have a unique opportunity to explain to our visitors the threats that these creatures face."
Pairi Daiza unveiled new accommodation this year - which is fully booked until the end of August.