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China confirms pandas must return to US

China confirms pandas must return to US

As of: February 22, 2024 1:09 PM

Pandas are visitor magnets in zoos and a diplomatic bargaining chip for China. After an accord between Beijing and Washington, the new pandas are now set to be shipped to the United States.

China wants to revive its panda diplomacy with the US. Chinese Foreign Office spokesman Mao Ning in Beijing said a cooperation agreement was signed with the zoo in San Diego. According to US media reports, two pandas from China could find a new home in California this summer. The last pandas left San Diego five years ago.

“We're very excited and hopeful,” said Megan Owen, vice president of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and Wildlife Conservation Science. The Chinese side has expressed great enthusiasm for the plan to resume panda cooperation, starting with the San Diego Zoo.

Only four animals currently live in the United States, all at Zoo Atlanta. The deal expires at the end of the year. However, the San Diego Zoo maintained contact with its Chinese colleagues even after the pandas returned.

The zoo in Washington can also be trusted

Last fall, several pandas had to leave the zoo in the US capital Washington, which had housed pandas since the 1970s, because a loan agreement expired. The return to China came at a time when relations between the two countries were at a low ebb.

Mao said Beijing is currently negotiating a renewed panda cooperation with the capital's zoo. This cooperation helps protect endangered animals and promotes friendship among people, he said.

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A meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November has already raised hopes that the bears will return. Both then promised to try to defuse the tension. Shi said he knows the San Diego Zoo and the people of California are excited to welcome pandas back.

Fewer than 2,000 pandas in the wild

Pandas live in the wild only in parts of China. The Chinese Forestry Commission recently estimated their numbers at 1,900 animals. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has downgraded it from “vulnerable” to “vulnerable”.

Breeding giant pandas is difficult because females have a very short reproductive window, only 48 to 72 hours per year. Owen says the bears' return is not only good for San Diego, but for the recovery of the species.

China has also supplied pandas to Germany. Berlin Zoo is currently expecting the offspring of female panda Meng Meng. Two pandas were born in the capital in 2019.