Last Pandas in the United States Have a Deadline to Travel Back to China

The last zoo in the United States that has pandas is planning to say goodbye to the four giant bears this autumn.

Zoo Atlanta officials announced on Friday that they are getting ready to send panda parents Lun Lun and Yang Yang back to China, along with their twins Ya Lun and Xi Lun who were born in the United States. The transfer does not have a set date yet, but they mentioned that it will probably take place sometime between October and December.

The four pandas in Atlanta are currently the only pandas in the United States. This is because three pandas that were at the National Zoo in Washington were sent back to China last November. The pandas flew to China on November 8th and landed in Chengdu, where the Chinese National Zoo is located, 24 days later.

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian were borrowed for a program that involved studying and breeding. In 2020, the couple had a baby named Xiao Qi Ji, who also went back to China. The forklifts had to transport the giant pandas to the airport in trucks. Then, the pandas got on a special flight with “snacks,” which included about 220 pounds of bamboo.

Pandas were brought to D.C. to help save the species by breeding them. Couples of pandas have been kept at the zoo ever since.

Some American zoos have returned pandas to China because their loan agreements expired during a time of increased diplomatic tensions between the two countries. Only the Memphis Zoo and the San Diego Zoo, in addition to the zoos in Atlanta and Washington D.C., have housed giant pandas in the United States. Memphis sent back its only remaining panda in April 2023. San Diego gave back its pandas in 2019, over 30 years after they first arrived in 1987.

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Atlanta received two pandas named Lun Lun and Yang Yang from China in 1999. They were brought as part of a loan agreement that will end soon after 25 years.

Ya Lun and Xi Lun are the youngest of seven pandas born at Zoo Atlanta since their parents arrived in 2016. Their brothers and sisters are already being taken care of at China’s Chengdu Research Center of Giant Panda Breeding.

There might be a chance that America will get a new pair of pandas before the bears in Atlanta leave. Last month, the San Diego Zoo announced that their staff members went to China to meet pandas Yun Chuan and Xin Bao. These pandas might come to California as early as this summer. The San Francisco Zoo recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the China Wildlife Conservation Association in April. This agreement will allow the zoo to bring pandas to their facility. In the 1980s, pandas were temporarily kept at the zoo. However, this agreement is the first time that pandas will permanently live at San Francisco Zoo.

Zoo Atlanta officials announced that they will provide “significant advance notice” before their pandas leave, according to a news release. Zoo officials said that there have been no discussions with partners in China about the possibility of Atlanta hosting any future pandas.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are currently a little more than 1,800 pandas living in the wild. Despite efforts to increase their population through breeding programs, pandas are still in danger of becoming extinct.

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