The Nationwide Zoo’s panda program is ending after greater than 50 years as China seems to be elsewhere

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(CNN) – The three large pandas tumble round of their enclosure on the Smithsonian Nationwide Zoo in Washington, DC, munching on bamboo shoots and leaves, climbing branches and usually wanting lovable.

For the regular stream of guests, it’s their final probability to see Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and their youngest cub, Xiao Qi Ji, earlier than the black-and-white bears head again to China on Wednesday.


And with relations between the 2 superpowers in a continuing state of flux, these nationwide treasures could also be discovering themselves a part of the extension of the diplomatic chaos that has taken over the connection between the 2 nations.

The pandas’ departure from the Nationwide Zoo leaves Zoo Atlanta as the one different US zoo to characteristic pandas from China, and never for for much longer. The contracts for Atlanta’s 4 bears expire subsequent 12 months, with no phrase on an extension.


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On this February 21, 1972, file photograph, Chinese language communist social gathering chief Mao Zedong, left, and US President Richard Nixon shake arms as they meet in Beijing.

“The 2 sides have shaped good cooperative relations, achieved fruitful outcomes and performed a constructive function in defending endangered species,” mentioned spokesperson Mao Ning of China’s Ministry of International Affairs.

“The aim is to raised defend endangered species and promote world biodiversity conservation.”

Beijing’s panda diplomacy with Washington kicked off in 1972, following President Richard Nixon’s historic go to to China.

Chairman Mao Zedong’s authorities gave two large pandas to america in an indication of warming bilateral ties after many years of diplomatic deep freeze.

First girl Pat Nixon welcomed the pandas to the nation’s capital, saying, “They are going to be loved by the tens of millions of people that come from throughout the nation to go to the nation’s capital annually.”

Seeing the pandas’ recognition rise amongst Individuals, China despatched extra of the cuddly and charismatic creatures to different zoos throughout america, ultimately loaning them as a substitute of giving them as a present.

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First girl Pat Nixon welcomes China’s large pandas on April 20, 1972, at Washington’s Nationwide Zoo. Along with her is Ting-Hung, head of the Bureau of Public Service of the Metropolis of Peking, who accompanied the animals to Washington. Within the enclosure is male panda Hsing-Hsing.

Agreements between China and the US zoos stipulate Beijing owns the pandas and any of their offspring, they usually require fee “for the conservation of large pandas in China.” The Nationwide Zoo has paid $500,000 a 12 months; Zoo Atlanta says it has contributed greater than $16 million because the begin of its program in 1999.

Since large pandas arrived on the Nationwide Zoo in 1972, animal care workers and scientists have studied their biology, habits, breeding, replica and illness, in response to the zoo.

“The Zoo’s large panda staff works intently with colleagues in China to advance conservation efforts for large pandas in human care and within the wild,” the zoo says on its web site.

On the peak of this system, there have been 15 pandas at one time in america, however previously decade, the numbers have dropped – coinciding with worsening US-China relations. And shortly, there might be no extra pandas at American zoos.

Chinese language docs defended the zoo’s therapy of the pandas, confirming that the large panda, named YaYa, was affected by a pores and skin illness, however was in good well being.

Assuming China chooses to not ship over extra large pandas, and Atlanta sends theirs again subsequent 12 months, by the tip of 2024 the one panda in zoos all through the entire Americas can be Xin Xin in Mexico Metropolis.

CNN

CNN’s David Culver, left, speaks with Fernando Gual Sill, director basic of the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico Metropolis.

Xin Xin – who at 33 is previous for a panda – is owned by Mexico and is a primary attraction on the zoo, which is now bracing for a attainable surge in guests.

“In the meanwhile, come to Mexico!” mentioned Fernando Gual Sill, director basic of the Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico Metropolis. “In Mexico Metropolis now we have the fortune to have (a panda) and to see it and to take pleasure in it!”

Pandas all over the world

Pandas which are a part of China’s mortgage program are supposed to function an envoy of friendship between China and the host nation, so the fading program in america might point out a diplomatic shift.

Qatar acquired its first panda final 12 months.

Steve Schaefer/AFP/Getty Photographs

Pandas Yang Yang, left, and Lun Lun play collectively at Zoo Atlanta in November 1999. They’ve since change into the mother and father of seven large panda cubs born at Zoo Atlanta, in response to the zoo.

The pandas leaving America will head to the Chengdu Analysis Base of Large Panda Breeding, the place in recent times conservation efforts have confirmed profitable. Pandas are not on the endangered species record, and their inhabitants has jumped almost 17% over the previous decade, in response to Zoo Atlanta.

Will the pandas ever return stateside?

Workers on the Nationwide Zoo say they’re hopeful China would possibly someday ship over extra large pandas. They’re even planning renovations for the soon-to-be vacant panda exhibit.

“We’re longing for the longer term, so now we have submitted an utility that’s being reviewed,” mentioned Bob Lee, director of animal care on the Nationwide Zoo.

Zoo Atlanta’s panda habitat price $7 million to construct forward of the bears’ arrival in 1999, and assuming the bears go away on the finish of their contracted keep, it’s going to now stand empty. Plans for the exhibit, with a welcome signal asserting the “Large Pandas of Chengdu” and a panda-themed present store, aren’t clear.

Remembering how the pandas first got here to Washington, zoo customer Jane Mahalik mentioned she hoped the present first girl would possibly work for his or her return.

CNN’s Yong Xiong reported from Washington, DC, and New York; Melissa Grey reported from Atlanta; and David Culver reported from Los Angeles and Mexico Metropolis.


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