San Diego Zoo: First pair of pandas to enter the United States in 21 years take off from China

Tingshu Wang/Reuters

A panda at the Ya’an Bifengxia Base of the China Giant Panda Conservation and Research Center in Sichuan province, China, June 12, 2024.


San Diego’s new giant pandas are on their way from China to California, according to Chinese state media – marking the first time Beijing has provided new panda loans to the United States in two decades.

The two pandas, Yun Chuan and public television CCTV.

The rare loan was finalized in February, just months after Chinese leader Xi Jinping suggested sending pandas to the San Diego Zoo as “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American people.”

Xin Bao, a female born in July 2020, is a “gentle and well-behaved” panda, while Yun Chuan, a male born in July 2019, is “intelligent and lively”, CCTV reported.

They received a festive farewell at the Chinese base, attended by American and Chinese dignitaries, including performances and an exchange of gifts, according to a statement from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

To ensure their health and safety during the trip, their team prepared meals using fresh bamboo, bamboo shoots, fruits, vegetables and a specially prepared cornbread called “wotou”, CCTV reported .

Video surveillance

A screenshot from a video shows people bidding farewell to pandas Xin Bao and Yun Chuan in Ya’an city, China, June 26, 2024.

Five breeders and veterinary experts from the two countries are also on board the flight, with the Chinese experts staying three months after their arrival to help them “adapt to the new living environment”, according to CCTV.

The pandas won’t be visible to the public for several weeks while they acclimatize – and once veterinary teams confirm they are ready to meet their eager American fans, the zoo will share their start date, a- he indicated.

China lends pandas to more than 20 countries in a program often called “panda diplomacy.” Its panda loans from Washington date back to 1972 – although the number of loans has declined in recent years as relations between the United States and China have deteriorated.

The San Diego Zoo, one of the most renowned in the world, was the first American institution to conduct cooperative research on giant pandas with China. Since 1994, the organization has worked with the Sichuan Conservation Center to study the species’ behavior, genetics, artificial reproduction, nutrition and disease prevention.

There are fewer than 2,000 giant pandas left in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which classifies the species as vulnerable.

But the zoo hasn’t had any pandas for a few years: it sent its last two pandas back to China in 2019, after its loan agreement ended.

Yun Chuan’s mother, Zhen Zhen, was born at the San Diego Zoo in 2007 to parents Bai Yun and Gao Gao, according to a press release issued by the San Diego Zoo in April.

Grandma Bai Yun was born in China in 1991 and arrived at the San Diego Zoo in 1996. She returned to China in 2019 at the age of 27, according to Chinese state media.

The Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C., also returned its three pandas to China last November, marking the end of more than 50 years of housing Chinese pandas at the zoo. The end of its program made Zoo Atlanta the only other American zoo to feature pandas.

Chinese leader Xi hinted at the new loan last November, after lengthy talks with President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in San Francisco.

“We stand ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation and do our best to accommodate the wishes of Californians to deepen the friendly ties between our two peoples,” he told the era.

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