The National Zoo’s three giant pandas have set off for China after 23 years at the Washington, D.C. zoo.
Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and their cub Xiao Qi Ji were loaded into large crates on Wednesday and taken to Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia to board the “FedEx Panda Express,” a Boeing 777F.
The three giant pandas have a 19-hour flight to Chengdu, China.
“It is a moment with some heartbreak in it,” said National Zoo Director Brandie Smith. “But it is also a moment of joy because we are celebrating the success of the world’s longest-running conservation program for a single species.”
The pandas were some of the last pandas in the country, with zoos in D.C., Memphis, and San Diego already having returned their pandas back to China. The Atlanta Zoo pandas, which are the only ones left in the country, will return to China at the start of 2024, according to the BBC.
Smith said she hopes that giant pandas will someday return to the U.S. Still, the Smithsonian National Zoo has an expiring exchange agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association that ends in early December.
Officials have not been able to agree to a new deal despite negotiations.
Experts say Beijing may withdraw its giant pandas from America and Europe as diplomatic tensions increase.
“Such collaboration has contributed strongly to the mutual understanding and friendship between the Chinese and American peoples,” she said. “China will continue to work closely with cooperation partners, including the United States, on the conservation and research of endangered species and biodiversity protection.”
Under the original agreement, the Chinese government gifted the first pair of pandas — Hsing Hsing and Ling Ling — to the U.S. for a 10-year renewable term. The annual fee ranges from $1 million to $2 million per pair, plus mandatory costs to build and maintain facilities to house the pandas.
Photo Courtesy: ©Getty Images/Anna Moneymaker / Staff
Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.
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