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Thailand asks China to extend panda's stay

BANGKOK, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Thai officials say they've asked China to allow a giant panda cub, a celebrity at a northern Thailand zoo, to stay for two more years.

Zoological Park Organization chief Sophon Damnui and the Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti say they've been working to extend the contract signed with China to keep the cub Lhinping at the Chiang Mai Zoo for another two years, the Bangkok Post reported Thursday.

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The cub was born in May 2009 to Lin Hui and Xuang Xuang, two giant pandas on a 10-year loan from China since 2003.

China would send representatives to inspect the living conditions of the giant pandas and their cub in January, Sophon said.

Thai authorities would discuss the proposed extension of the cub's stay during the visit, he said.

Of the more than 1.2 million tourists who visited the Chiang Mai Zoo this year, 600,000 went expressly to see the pandas, Sophon said.

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