Cuddly, cute, and endlessly huggable. Pandas have gone viral online for their antics. In multiple videos, they can be seen climbing on their caretakers, tumbling around their lush enclosures, or munching on leaves and young shoots.
But, more than that, they have helped foster diplomatic ties between China and the USA for five decades. As such, it raised eyebrows and made many speculate about things to come because the remaining Pandas are returning to China.
The three pandas named Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and Xiao Qi Ji of the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC, are headed to Chengdu in China on November 8, 2023. It’s because China hasn’t extended the pandas’ stay in the USA. Also, it’s supposedly a sign of worsening diplomatic ties between the two nations.
Why Is The National Zoo Sending Pandas Back to China?
On November 8, 2023, the three pandas of the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC, Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, and their youngest offspring, Xiao Qi Ji, were put into 800-pound steel and plexiglass individual crates.
As per People magazine, they were to be escorted by a bevy of caretakers and eating material of 220 pounds of bamboo, 6 pounds of apples and sweet potatoes, 5 pounds of low starch biscuits and carrots, 3 pounds of sugar cane, 1 pound of pears, and cooked squash.
The pandas boarded from the Dulles International Airport on a Boeing 777F aircraft, cheekily dubbed the ‘FedEx Panda Express’ to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. But why are they going to China?
Because China hasn’t extended the contractual stay of the pandas at the US National Zoo, the zoo staff thinks there will be a hiatus now in their panda program after five decades of success.
It’s up to the Chinese officials to permit and continue the efforts again. For 50 years, the Chinese pandas have been found at the National Zoo. It began in 1972, after US President Richard Nixon’s China visit.
Chairman Mao Zedong’s government gifted two pandas to the US as a sign of goodwill and warming diplomatic ties. So their departure has begun hushed whispers in the political crowd.
Many say that the eroding of Panda diplomacy signifies an ill future. CNN reports that the Pandas being sent back could signify freezing diplomatic relations between the two superpowers. They said:
“With relations between the two superpowers in a constant state of flux, these national treasures may be part of the extension of the diplomatic chaos that has taken over the relationship between the two countries.”
Reports also confirm that there were 15 giant bears at the program’s height. But that has declined, seemingly in tune with the ever-worsening ties between the Western and Asian superpowers.
The agreement between the two countries states that Beijing owns the pandas and their offspring. Also, the US zoos have to pay to keep the giant bears.
CNN reports that the National Zoo has forked up $500,000 annually, while Zoo Atlanta has paid upwards of $16 million to the Panda program since it began in 1999.
Will pandas ever come to the US again? Bob Lee, the National Zoo’s director of animal care, is hopeful. They have also applied for the same. In the meantime, they are planning to renovate the empty panda exhibit.
With the National Zoo Pandas leaving, the only place to see these cuddly beings in the US is Zoo Atlanta, and their contract for the four black-and-white bears they have is set to expire in 2024. There has been no word on any extension till now.
What do you think of the pandas returning to China amid uncertainty about their return to the US? Is it a sign that the relations between the two nations will deteriorate further?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.