Doha: Qatar became the first Middle Eastern country on Wednesday to receive Chinese giant pandas - Suhail and Soraya - who, in true Gulf fashion, took up residence in luxury air-conditioned quarters.
Crowds of children and reporters watched as the four-year-old male and three-year-old female took their first steps in a temporary enclosure in a ceremony at the Al Khor park about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Doha.
The Chinese government sent the animals as gift to mark the World Cup that starts November 20. China has not qualified for the event, but is a major customer for Qatar's natural gas.
Suhail, who weighs 130 kilogrammes (286 pounds), and his female partner, who is 70 kilos (154 pounds), must undergo 21 days quarantine following their arrival along with two keepers, said Al Khor's zoological director Tim Bouts.
"In a few weeks, or in a month's time, they will be ready to be shown to the world," Bouts added.
Authorities have not yet said whether a new Panda House, one of the biggest enclosures anywhere, will be ready by the time the World Cup starts.
Suhail and Soraya will have their own separate quarters in the Panda House.
China's ambassador to Qatar, Zhou Jian, said the new complex was "world class, magnificent and comfortable".
"I believe that these two lovely pandas will soon become the focus of love among the Qatari people, and superstars in the Middle East," he added.
Suhail is the name of one of the brightest stars visible in the Gulf region, while Soraya is the Arabic name for the Pleiades star cluster.