Wanted: 2 Pandas For D.C. Zoo

The National Zoo expects to hear from China next month about the zoo's offer to pay for borrowing two baby pandas, a zoo official said Thursday. The offer is $2.5 million to "lease" the animals.

Zoo officials who traveled to China with the offer "were received warmly, but no commitments were made," said Robert J. Hoage, chief of public affairs for the zoo.

Benjamin Beck, the zoo's associate director for biological programs; Devra Kleiman, a senior scientist; and Lisa Stevens, curator of pandas and primates, spent a week in China just before Fourth of July weekend. They are to provide details of their trip at a news conference Friday.

The zoo's one remaining panda, Hsing-Hsing, is 28 years old and suffers from severe arthritis and an irreversible kidney condition. Zoo officials are not predicting how long he will live, although Hoage said pandas in the wild rarely live past their early 20s. Hsing-Hsing reportedly will only take his medicine if itÂ's hidden in blueberry muffins from Starbucks.

Hsing-Hsing is feeling better since he's been on medicine for arthritis and anemia, antibiotics and a "Pepcid-like" stomach pill, Hoage said. He's eating about 20 pounds of bamboo a day along with sweet potatoes, apples, carrots and a gruel containing cottage cheese, rice, honey and vitamins and minerals.

Ling Ling in happier, healthier times in 1987.
Hsing-Hsing and another panda, Ling Ling, were diplomatic gifts from China in 1972 after President Nixon's historic visit to that country. Ling Ling died of hardening of the arteries seven years ago, and none of the pair's five cubs survived.

An estimated 1,000 giant pandas live in the wild in China, their only native habitat, and 100 live in Chinese zoos. Since they are endangered, China no longer gives pandas as gifts and does not sell pandas overseas.

"They have been breeding pandas successfully. What we hope to provide or assist is providing research that could enhance their efforts so that the populations can be sustainable," Ken Stansell of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington told CBS This Morning Co-Anchor Thalia Assuras.

Zoo Atlanta recently reached an $11 million agreement to lease a pair of 2-year-old pandas as part of a 10-year study on why pandas are not interested in mating while in captivity.

Officials claim the $2.5 million will go for conservation programs of pandas in China - regardless of the national zoo receiving them. Many conservationists are saying now that no zoo should be getting these animals.

Stansell doesnÂ't agree.

"We feel there is a need to sustain a population of pandas in captivity because we can't guarantee that they will survive in te wild. Having a good breeding program in captivity will certainly help that effort," he said.

The National Zoo, one of the few U.S. zoos that charge no admission, cannot afford $11 million, Hoage said. It hopes China will accept its offer, along with proposals for extensive, collaborative educational and research projects, he said.