The Panda Party is back on as giant pandas will return to Washington's National Zoo by year's end | World News - Hindustan Times
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The Panda Party is back on as giant pandas will return to Washington's National Zoo by year's end

AP |
May 29, 2024 09:04 PM IST

The Panda Party is back on as giant pandas will return to Washington's National Zoo by year's end

WASHINGTON — Half a year after the nation's capital bid an emotional farewell to its giant pandas, the National Zoo is expecting a renewed surge in panda-mania with the announcement that two more of the furry black-and-white icons will be coming to Washington.

The Panda Party is back on as giant pandas will return to Washington's National Zoo by year's end
The Panda Party is back on as giant pandas will return to Washington's National Zoo by year's end

The zoo announced Wednesday that a fresh agreement had been struck with the Chinese government, and a pair of adult pandas would be arriving from China by the end of the year. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute said the incoming pair are Bao Li and Qing Bao .

“We’re thrilled to announce the next chapter of our breeding and conservation partnership begins by welcoming two new bears, including a descendent of our beloved panda family, to Washington, D.C.,” said Brandie Smith, the zoo’s director. “This historic moment is proof positive our collaboration with Chinese colleagues has made an irrefutable impact. Through this partnership, we have grown the panda population, advanced our shared understanding of how to care for this beloved bear and learned what’s needed to protect wild pandas and preserve native habitat.”

Giant pandas are prized in Washington and around the nation and the world. The number of pandas in American zoos has dwindled as loan agreements lapsed during diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and China that remain high over economic relations, technology, trade, Taiwan and even a spy balloon. Washington's three pandas returned to China last November.

Despite no public guarantees that the loan agreement would be renewed, Smith and other zoo officials had remained quietly confident that they would host pandas again. During the bears' absence, the zoo launched a renovation of the popular panda house in preparation for that day.

Two weeks ago, the Chinese Embassy in Washington held an event for a video series about friendship between people in China and the U.S., and Smith gave an emotional speech recounting her experience with giant pandas.

For more than five decades, the institute has created and maintained one of the world’s foremost giant panda conservation programs, helping move the panda from “endangered” to “vulnerable” on the global list of species at risk of extinction.

Chinese President Xi Jinping had signaled during a trip in late 2023 that China would be sending new pandas to the United States. He called them “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples.”

“We are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation, and do our best to meet the wishes of the Californians so as to deepen the friendly ties between our two peoples,” Xi said during a speech with business leaders while he was attending a summit of Indo-Pacific leaders and meeting with President Joe Biden.

“I was told that many American people, especially children, were really reluctant to say goodbye to the pandas and went to the zoo to see them off,” Xi said in his speech, adding that he learned the San Diego Zoo and people in California “very much look forward to welcoming pandas back.”

The zoo accompanied the announcement with a light-hearted video featuring Smith, Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III and first lady Jill Biden. The trio in the video are gathered to discuss protocol for a reception to welcome unnamed honored guests. When Biden asks about attire and menu, Smith dryly replies that the impending guests are “strict vegetarians” who are “partial to black and white.”

Last November, giant pandas Tian Tian and Mei Xiang and their cub, Xiao Qi Ji, went back to China, prompting a nationwide outpouring of farewell from millions of U.S. panda fans of all ages. The trio's departure left only one panda family remaining in American zoos, at Zoo Atlanta, and those remain scheduled to return to China later this year.

Zoo Atlanta is making preparations to return panda parents Lun Lun and Yang Yang along with their American-born twins Ya Lun and Xi Lun, zoo officials said earlier this month. There was no date for the transfer, they said, but it will likely happen between October and December.

It's possible that America will welcome another new panda pair before the Atlanta bears depart. The San Diego Zoo said last month that staff members recently traveled to China to meet pandas Yun Chuan and Xin Bao, which could arrive in California as soon as this summer. A separate agreement was also announced to send a breeding pair of pandas to San Francisco as well.

Pandas have long been the symbol of the U.S.-China friendship since Beijing gifted a pair to the National Zoo in 1972, ahead of the normalization of bilateral relations. Later, Beijing loaned the pandas to other U.S. zoos, with proceeds going back to panda conservation programs.

When U.S-China relations began to sour in recent years, members of the Chinese public started to demand the return of giant pandas. Unproven allegations that U.S. zoos mistreated the pandas, known as China’s “national treasure,” flooded China’s social media.

The National Zoo said the pandas coming to Washington are:

— Bao Li, a 2-year-old male whose name means “treasure” and “energetic.” He was born Aug. 4, 2021, at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Sichuan to father An An and mother Bao Bao. The zoo said Bao Li’s mother was born at the zoo in 2013, and his grandparents Tian Tian and Mei Xiang lived at the zoo from 2000 to 2023. It was Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, along with their cub Xiao Qi Ji, who left the zoo in November.

— Qing Bao, a 2-year-old female whose name means “green” and “treasure.” She was born Sept. 12, 2021.

Smith, the zoo's director, said “this historic moment is proof positive our collaboration with Chinese colleagues has made an irrefutable impact."

“Through this partnership,” Smith said in a statement, "we have grown the panda population, advanced our shared understanding of how to care for this beloved bear and learned what’s needed to protect wild pandas and preserve native habitat.”

The zoo said that the new pandas will be quarantined in the panda house for a minimum of 30 days upon their arrival. The date for the pandas' public debut will be announced when their care team feels they are ready.

A research and breeding agreement with the Chinese runs through April 2034 and, like previous ones, says any cubs born at the zoo will move to China by age 4, according to the announcement. The zoo will pay a $1 million annual fee to the China Wildlife Conservation Association to support research and conservation efforts in China.

This article was generated from an automated news agency feed without modifications to text.

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