China to send new pandas to the San Diego Zoo – DollarJob

China to send new pandas to the San Diego Zoo

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HONG KONG — China will send a new pair of giant pandas to the San Diego Zoo this year, in a boost for what is known as “panda diplomacy” after U.S. zoos were left with almost none of the beloved black-and-white bears amid a deterioration in ties between the two superpowers.

The China Wildlife Conservation Association has reached agreements with the San Diego Zoo as well as the Madrid Zoo in Spain on “a new round of international cooperation for giant panda conservation,” Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, reported Thursday.

It is also in talks with the National Zoo in Washington and the Schönbrunn Zoo in Vienna, the agency said.

Megan Owen, vice president of wildlife conservation science at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, which runs the zoo, told The Associated Press that the two pandas, one male and one female, could arrive as early as the end of summer.

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

One of the females being considered, she told the AP, is a descendant of Bai Yun and Gao Gao, two of the San Diego Zoo’s former residents. The zoo has not had any giant pandas since 2019.

Phone calls to the China Wildlife Conservation Association in Beijing went unanswered on Thursday.

“We look forward to further expanding the results of scientific research on the protection of endangered species such as the giant panda through the new round of international cooperation, promoting people-to-people connectivity and enhancing civilian friendship with relevant countries,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Thursday at a regular news briefing in Beijing.

The future for pandas in the United States had looked bleak in recent months, as the return to China of the sole remaining panda at the Memphis Zoo in April and the three pandas at the National Zoo in November meant that Zoo Atlanta’s four pandas were the only ones left in the nation. The loan agreement for those pandas expires this year.

But during a visit to California in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping surprised Biden administration officials by suggesting that pandas could soon be returning to the state. He made the comments after a summit meeting with President Joe Biden aimed at reducing tensions between the U.S. and China, whose leaders hadn’t spoken in a year.

“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 at a dinner for business leaders in San Francisco, referring to the bears at the National Zoo. “I also learned that the San Diego Zoo and the Californians very much look forward to welcoming pandas back.”

The giant panda, which is endemic to China, has been a symbol of U.S.-China friendship since Beijing sent the first pair to the National Zoo as a gift in 1972, seven years before the two countries established formal diplomatic relations.

Other pandas have been loaned to zoos in the U.S. and around the world at a typical cost of $1 million per year for a pair, which China uses to fund conservation research. Experts say such collaborations have helped move the notoriously reproduction-resistant giant panda off the endangered species list, though it remains at risk.

There are an estimated 1,800 pandas in the wild and an additional 600 living in captivity around the world.

But even the panda has fallen victim to the rising distrust between the U.S. and China, with Chinese nationalists waging an intense online campaign for the return last year of a panda at the Memphis Zoo named Ya Ya. Social media users accused the zoo of mistreating the bear and blamed it for the earlier death of her mate Le Le, despite denials from zoo officials and Chinese panda experts.

Even as China prepares to send the U.S. more of the bears, some suspicion may remain.

“Please take better care of our pandas,” read one comment on the Xinhua story on Thursday.

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