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2 new giant pandas are returning to Washington's National Zoo from China

Giant pandas to return to D.C.'s National Zoo
Giant pandas to return to D.C.'s National Zoo 02:53

Washington's National Zoo is preparing to welcome a pair of new giant pandas by the end of the year about six months after it sent its three pandas back to China.

The Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute was previously home to Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who were on loan from China for a research and breeding program. The two pandas and their baby, Xiao Qi Ji, won't be returning, but visitors will soon be able to meet Bao Li and Qing Bao, the zoo said in a news release

Bao Li, a 2-year-old giant panda, is the grandson of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. 

Male giant panda Bao Li in his habitat at Shenshuping Base in Wolong, China. Roshan Patel, Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

The second panda, Qing Bao, is also 2 years old. 

Female giant panda Qing Bao in her habitat at Dujiangyan Base in Sichuan, China. Roshan Patel, Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

Both were born at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. They will be transported to the United States by FedEx, which has previously shepherded pandas between the U.S. and China. 

As the pandas return, so too will the zoo's Panda Cam, which allows people around the world to check in with the pandas in real-time, according to Lonnie G. Bunch, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.  

Pandas were first sent to D.C. in 1972 to help breed and continue the species. In a video shared on social media to announce the return of the pandas, zoo official Brandie Smith referred to the program as "one of our biggest conservation success stories." 

Just a few zoos hosted the pandas while the program was in effect, including the National Zoo, the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee, and the San Diego Zoo in California. All three zoos returned their pandas as loan agreements lapsed and diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and China heightened. The last pandas in the U.S. are at Zoo Atlanta and are expected to go back to China between October and December.

A new pair of pandas is also expected to be sent to the San Diego Zoo as early as the end of this summer. The China Wildlife Conservation Association has also signed cooperation agreements with a zoo in Madrid, Spain, and was in talks for such an agreement with a zoo in Vienna, Austria. 

Pandas have long been a symbol of friendship between the United States and China since the first ones were sent to the National Zoo in 1972 ahead of the normalization of relations between the countries. The zoos also helped breed the pandas and boost the population of the species. 

There are just over 1,800 pandas left in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and although breeding programs have increased their numbers, the panda's survival is still considered at severe risk. 

Zoos typically pay a fee of $1 million a year for two pandas, with the money earmarked for China's conservation efforts, according to a 2022 report from America's Congressional Research Service.

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