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Purloined pandas returned to restaurant

| Saturday, May 12, 2012, 3:24 p.m.

The plywood panda is an endangered species no more.

The panda pair stolen from the Super Panda Buffet in Hempfield Township over the weekend were returned to their home at the restaurant sometime Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

Their "fur" was a little bit damaged, but it's nothing a little black and white paint can't fix, restaurant manager Anne Welsh said.

The owners of the restaurant, located along Route 30 near Westmoreland Mall, had contacted state police about the theft of the 5-foot tall plywood figures, and a story on the incident ran in Tuesday's Tribune-Review.

Welsh said restaurant owner Mandy Lee had a dream Tuesday night that the girl panda, Ja-Ja, had been returned.

Lee told her husband, Fang-Te Lee, to get to the restaurant early to check on her premonition. When he got there at 8 a.m., both Ja-Ja and her male companion, One-One, were back.

"They were right at the front door," Welsh said. "... We're all happy and celebrating here now."

Welsh said everyone at the restaurant was thankful that the pandas, considered a good luck charm, had been returned.

"We appreciate everybody doing everything they did," Welsh said.

Customers had noticed their return as well. Welsh said the pandas are popular.

"(Children) just love to get their pictures taken with (the pandas)," she said.

Trooper Robert Kemerer of the state police in Greensburg, who was investigating the panda pilfering, was not on duty Wednesday and so could not comment on their return.

The pandas are the originals that were placed outside the restaurant when it opened in 1998. Ja-Ja was stolen shortly after Super Panda opened but was found in a corn field a few days later.

A set of twin pandas added to the display were stolen in January 2002.

Because of the history of theft, Ja-Ja and One-One were both bolted in several places to the building, Welsh said.

The thief or thieves had to rip the pandas from the wall, she said.

Of course, spring is the panda mating season. Maybe the pitter-patter of plywood panda feet will soon be heard.

"We're going to keep a close watch on them from now on," Welsh said.

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