China to send two giant pandas to Washington, DC, zoo

Bao Li and Qing Bao to arrive this year under a decade-long breeding and research agreement, zoo says.

Two-year-old female giant panda Qing Bao in her habitat at Dujiangyan Base in Sichuan, China [Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute via AP Photo]Published On 29 May 202429 May 2024

China will send giant pandas to the National Zoo in Washington, DC, United States first lady Jill Biden and officials say in a surprise announcement signalling a new era of panda diplomacy between the superpowers.

Bao Li and Qing Bao will arrive in the US before the end of the year under a decade-long breeding and research agreement, the zoo said in a statement on Wednesday celebrating the return of animals “beloved around the nation and the world”.

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“We are excited for children near and far to once again enjoy the giant pandas’ adorable and joyful adventures at our @NationalZoo,” the first lady posted on X.

With tensions soaring between Washington and Beijing, only a handful of the black and white bears remain in the US, and three left the National Zoo six months ago.

But Chinese President Xi Jinping said after meeting US President Joe Biden at a summit in California in November that China could send new pandas as “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American people”.

Two-year-old male giant panda Bao Li in his habitat at Shenshuping Base in Wolong, China [Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute via AP Photo]

The White House said it would be happy to have more bamboo-chewing bears.

“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, DC,” said Brandie Smith of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

“This historic moment is proof positive our collaboration with Chinese colleagues has made an irrefutable impact.”

China has been using “panda diplomacy” since 1972 when the first animals were sent to the US as a gift after then-President Richard Nixon’s visit to the Communist nation.

Strained relations between the rival superpowers in recent years have led Beijing to call some of the pandas back home.

All three giant pandas at the National Zoo – Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who arrived in 2000, and their three-year-old cub, Xiao Qi Ji (“Little Miracle” in English) – flew back on a cargo plane to China in November.

The last remaining US-based pandas, at a zoo in the southern city of Atlanta, are due to return to China this year although the Asian giant announced plans in February to send a pair to the San Diego Zoo.

The Washington, DC, arrivals, both two years old, were born within a month of each other at a conservation centre in the southwestern province of Sichuan. Both still live in the province in separate facilities.

Bao Li, a male whose name means “treasure” and “energetic”, is something of a scion of a storied Washington, DC, family.

His mother, Bao Bao, was born at the US capital’s zoo in 2013 while his grandparents lived there from 2000 to 2023, where they served as ambassadors for their species.

Female Qing Bao’s name means “green” and “treasure”.

The pandas will be quarantined in their new habitat for at least 30 days, monitored by a team of keepers, nutritionists and veterinarians.

They will have a few more weeks to settle into their new home before a public debut at a date yet to be announced, the zoo said.

“After welcoming close to 26 million visitors last year, up 16 percent from the previous year, we can’t wait to welcome two more,” Mayor Muriel Bowser posted on X.

“Bao Li and Qing Bao – look forward to seeing you soon!”

Source: News Agencies