National Zoo To Get New Pandas

Giant Pandas Yang Yang and Lun Lun play at Zoo Atlanta, Georgia.
Nearly five months after the National Zoo's last beloved giant panda Hsing-Hsing was put to sleep, the Chinese government has agreed to lend a pair of the rare animals to the zoo for 10 years.

The zoo, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution, has signed a letter of intent with China to rent two young giant pandas. They'll pay a total of $10 million over ten years. Smithsonian secretary Lawrence Small says the money will go to supporting China's conservation efforts of the giant panda.

The zoo still needs to work out which male and female pandas will be picked, and when they'll be delivered. Small says zoo and Smithsonian officials will return to China before August to resume negotiations. They also need U.S. government import documents.

The pandas will live in the same habitat zoo's previous pair, but before they arrive, the zoo must first finish $3 million in renovations to the panda quarters. Researchers say they hope to provide a living environment more like china's climate.

The National Zoo has been hoping for pandas to replace Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the adored animals who were the institution's most popular exhibit.

A gift to the United States by China in 1972, the pair had five cubs, but none of them lived more than a few days. Ling-Ling died in 1992 and her mate Hsing-Hsing, suffering from terminal kidney disease, was euthanized last year.

Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small last week announced that Hsing-Hsing's stuffed remains would not be exhibited at the Museum of Natural History as originally planned, because many people did not think it was an appropriate fate for such a beloved animal.

Giant pandas are so rare that there are only about 125 in zoos around the world and an estimated 1,000 in the mountains of China. Poaching and logging have reduced their habitat in recent years, but World Wildlife Fund officials say panda conservation efforts in China have increased recently.

Only pandas already in captivity can be exported. There now are five giant pandas living in the United States. Lun-Lun and Yang-Yang are the young pair that recently arrived at the Atlanta Zoo. The other bears live at the San Diego Zoo.

The California animal park has the only successful breeding pair of pandas in America. Last year Bai-Yun gave birth to Hua Mei, a female cub sired by her mate Shi-Shi. Hua Mei is the only panda cub born in the Western Hemisphere to survive.

Several other zoos, including Memphis, are negotiating with Chinese officials to obtain pandas.