Robin de Lange, the Ouwehands Zoo director in the Netherlands, says his zoo has been well prepared for the arrivals of Sichuan giant pandas. (Photo by Fu Jing/ China Daily)
Sixteen years ago, when 56-year-old Dutch tycoon Marcel Boekhoorn decided to acquire the Ouwehands Zoo, about 90 km from Amsterdam, to sustain his passion for wildlife, he had two dreams to fulfill.
One was to inject investment and expand the visitor flow to the zoo, which boasts of hosting more than 3,000 animals in the picturesque town Rhenen. After an investment of about 40-million euros, the number of visitors has increased five-fold and the zoo, set up in 1932 after being converted from a chicken farm, receives almost one million visitors annually.
The second dream was to acquire two giant pandas.
"It has taken quite a long time to fulfill his second dream but we are excited that it is coming true," says Robin de Lange, director of the zone during an interview with China Daily.
What makes de Lange and his boss so excited is that China agreed last October to send two giant pandas to the zoo after Dutch King Willem Alexander met President Xi Jinping in Beijing.
"This was his second dream when Boekhoorn bought the zoo," de Lange, who joined the zoo in 2003, recalled in his office beside the entrance of the zoo. Inside various models of animals are display and facing the door are photos of two pandas and their house, which is under construction in his zoo.
Already wealthy through strategic investments in sectors ranging from telecommunication, media to football, Boekhoorn, says de Lange, was passionate about moving pandas to the Netherlands and even he persuaded former Dutch prime minister Wim Kok into writing a letter to the Chinese leadership.
Over the years de Lange and his boss have been in close contact with Chinese officials, though there was no progress until last August, two months before the king traveled to China.
Then, Chinese embassy diplomats started talks with them over ways to underline the significance of the King's visit, a return visit after Xi's state visit to the Netherlands in March 2014. The Netherlands was the first European Union country Xi visited since he was elected as Chinese president in early 2013.