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Farewell to Pandas: Iconic Bears Depart U.S. Zoos Amid Diplomatic Shifts

Rahul Chavan, News Editor

Panda bear eating bamboo grass in a zoo. Photo//Shutterstock, grass-lifeisgood

The time has come for giant pandas, historically emblematic of international diplomacy, to leave U.S. zoos as their loan agreements with China reach their conclusion.

Among those preparing for departure are the pandas residing at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., including Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and the endearing cub Xiao Qi Ji, who are set to return to China by Dec. 7. Similarly, Zoo Atlanta's four pandas are scheduled to depart next year without the renewal of their agreements.

This trend follows the departure of pandas from the San Diego Zoo in 2019 and the Memphis Zoo in April 2023. In December, the U.K.'s last two pandas will move to China, while Australia faces a similar scenario next year if the Adelaide Zoo's agreement is not extended.

The practice of panda diplomacy, with its origins dating back to 1972 when the U.S. received its first pandas following President Nixon's visit to China, is experiencing transformations. While the precise reasons for the pandas' return remain inexplicit, some speculate that it may be associated with China's inclination towards fostering amicable relations with host nations. Additionally, China's recent reclassification of the giant panda from "endangered" to "vulnerable" and its dedication to maintaining the global panda population could have played a role in this decision.

The impending departure of these iconic pandas marks a shift in the landscape of international panda diplomacy. Questions are now emerging regarding its future as a symbol of diplomacy in international relations, as well as its potential ramifications on global panda conservation endeavors.

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