The Smithsonian National Zoo’s three pandas, which also include a male cub, are set to be returned to China in December, leaving the United States with only four remaining pandas in the country.
Their return: Adult pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian and their male cub Xiao Qi Ji are returning to China on Dec. 7, the same month the agreement between the U.S. and China for the bears will expire.
Mei Xiang and Tian Tian arrived at the Smithsonian National Zoo on Dec. 6, 2000, as part of a research and breeding agreement between the zoo and China Wildlife and Conservation Association and were only supposed to stay for a decade until the program was extended multiple times over the years.
Remaining pandas: If the three bears return, the U.S. would be left with only four remaining bears, which are taking residence in Zoo Atlanta in Georgia. However, those four bears — Lun Lun and Yang Yang, and their cubs Ya Lun and Xi Lun — are also likely to be returned to China, with the two offspring set for travel first in early 2024, while the two adult pandas are likely to see the same outcome once the agreement expires next year.
Pandas in the U.S.: The U.S. has several zoos featuring pandas as part of an agreement with China, including those in the Memphis Zoo, San Diego Zoo and Atlanta and Washington. The Memphis Zoo sent their panda, Ya Ya, back to China after the 20-year agreement expired in April, while the San Diego Zoo sent their two pandas in 2019.
About their return: While the Washington Zoo reportedly declined to comment, a person familiar with the matter purportedly claimed that the U.S. is looking to discuss the issue with China sometime between now and when the pandas are returned.
The spokesperson for China’s embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, said in a statement that the two countries are “communicating on future collaboration on giant panda conservation and research” as many good results have reportedly been achieved through the program, such as breeding.