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China to send pandas to the San Diego Zoo for the first time in years

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China could soon be sending giant pandas to the U.S. for the first time in years, reigniting “panda diplomacy” between the two countries.

The China Wildlife Conservation Assn. has secured agreements with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and the Madrid Zoo Aquarium of Spain regarding the conservation of giant pandas, according to Xinhua, China’s news agency.

Megan Owen, vice president of wildlife conservation science at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, confirmed the agreement between the Chinese agency and the zoo in a news release.

“We are humbled by the potential opportunity of continuing our collaborative conservation efforts to secure the future for giant pandas,” Owen said.

Owen told the Associated Press that the two pandas, one female and one male, could arrive by the end of the summer. One of the female pandas being considered descended from Bai Yun and Gao Gao, which used to live at the San Diego Zoo. The zoo hasn’t hosted giant pandas since 2019.

China is also negotiating with the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., to “develop a future giant panda program,” according to Brandie Smith, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

“It’s always been our intention and hope to have giant pandas at the Zoo in the future and continue our research here and conservation work in China,” Smith said in a statement.

China has been lending pandas to the U.S. for more than five decades as a sign of goodwill between the countries, but doubts about the future of the loans grew after several pandas were returned to China in the past few years.

The San Diego Zoo returned its last giant pandas, Bai Yun, and her son, Xiao Liwu, to China in 2019, and the Memphis Zoo sent back its female panda in April.

Last November, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo sent back two adult pandas, Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, and their cub, Xiao Qi Ji, according to a news release.

Chinese President Xi Jinping hinted late last year that China could send new pandas to the U.S., calling 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 at the time.

Beijing first lent two pandas to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington in 1972. Beijing started lending out pandas to other U.S. zoos, with the proceeds going to conservation programs.

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