The last full day to view the two giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo had been planned for Monday, but because of the overwhelming enthusiasm of the crowds who have waited to see them, viewing has been extended through today.
Georgeanne Irvine, public relations coordinator for the zoo, said Chen Yu Chun, director of the Fuzhou Zoo, decided to leave the pandas, Basi and Yuan Yuan, on view all day today.
More than 2.3 million people have seen the pandas since their arrival in late July; nearly 56,000 people passed through the zoo's gates over the weekend.
Thinking that Monday was the last day to see the pandas, many visitors lined up outside the zoo as early as 8 a.m.
"We got here early and there was already a long line," said Mary Heaton of Minnesota. "As soon as the gates opened, we ran straight toward the panda exhibit. I'm here visiting my sister and thought it would be nice to see the pandas before they left."
Although crowds of people hurried to the panda exhibit early Monday morning, the wait to see the zoo's most popular animals was only about 15 minutes, down from the two-hour wait during the weekend.
"I thought it would be a lot more crowded," said Chisako Yokoyama, a student at Santa Monica College. "My friends are here from Japan and wanted to see the pandas before going back home. They said they saw pandas at the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo, but it was hard to get a good view of them. We were very pleased that we were able to see them so closely."
Zoo spokesman Jeff Jouett said the giant pandas will leave the zoo at 3 a.m. Wednesday, starting their 17-hour journey back to Beijing.