A new pair of giant pandas have been offered to Adelaide Zoo in a swap for the popular duo who have called the zoo home for the past 15 years.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang made the announcement at the zoo this morning, thanking South Australia for looking after Wang Wang and Fu Ni so well.

“We will provide a new pair of equally beautiful, lovely and adorable pandas to the Adelaide Zoo,” he said.

“I’m sure they will be loved and taken good care of by the people of Adelaide, South Australia, and Australia.”

The pandas enjoyed plenty of attention this morning.(ABC News)

Wang Wang and Fu Ni have been at Adelaide Zoo since 2009.

China had originally loaned them for 10 years but a deal was struck to extend the loan for another five years, which ends in November.

Mr Li said the pair, the only giant pandas in the southern hemisphere, would return to China by the end of the year.

His visit to Adelaide Zoo was part of his four-day trip to Australia, the first by a Chinese premier since 2017.

Zoos SA chief executive Elaine Bensted said visitation increased by 150,000 people in the first year of the panda’s arrival, and the pair had continued to remain one of the most popular parts of the zoo 15 years on.

“I think there will be a lot of people sad to say farewell to Fu Ni and Wang Wang but then they’ll also share our excitement in welcoming new pandas,” Ms Bensted said.

South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas (centre) with Chinese Premier Li Qiang (second from right) at Adelaide Zoo this morning.(ABC News: Stephanie Richards)

Ms Bensted said while she was unsure where Wang Wang and Fu Ni would be housed when they returned to China, she said they would be “treated like rock stars”.

“I’ve been to and seen the pandas that return from international placements. Everyone knows their names, they know where they have been and I’m sure it’ll be the same for Fu Ni and Wang Wang,” she said.

Ms Bensted said the new pair of pandas would be chosen in conjunction with vets locally and in China, but it was too soon to say when they would arrive.

“There’s quite a lot of logistics, permit processes, quarantines. Now we’ve had the offer [we] can start working through those details,” she said.

The zoo had embarked on a breeding program of both natural mating and artificial insemination over the years, but to no success.

However, Ms Bensted said breeding had “never been the key aim”.

“Of course we have always said it would be a fantastic outcome for South Australia and for Adelaide Zoo,” she said.

“We’ll just need to wait and see whether or not that occurs.

“We obviously haven’t had the success that we had hoped for with Fu Ni and Wang Wang. Maybe in the future with these new pandas we will.”

Dr Phil Ainsley from Zoos SA has worked closely with Wang Wang and Fu Ni during their time at the Adelaide Zoo.(ABC News: Shari Hams)

Conservation Programs Manager at the Adelaide Zoo, Dr Phil Ainsley, said today’s announcement was a welcome opportunity for staff and South Australians.

“We’ve been on a 15-year journey. This offer today allows us to continue that journey,” Dr Ainsley said.

“Just seeing the excitement still today that it draws with the Australian public is truly remarkable.”

He said while it would be sad to see the much-loved panda pair travel home, he was happy to see them return to China.

“These are an absolutely iconic species and when you first get to see, and potentially meet a giant panda, it’s something you will never forget,” he said.

“We know that when they return to China, they will be given the absolute utmost of care, just like they have received by the amazing team here in Adelaide.”

Posted , updated