Source: Associated Press

The National Zoo’s three giant pandas, Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and their cub Xiao Qi Ji, are scheduled to return to China in early December, with uncertainty surrounding the renewal of the 50-year-old panda exchange agreement between the United States and China. The National Zoo has not provided public updates on the negotiations, and their stance appears pessimistic, treating this as the end of an era. This move is part of a larger trend, with China gradually recalling its pandas from Western zoos as diplomatic tensions rise. Observers call this trend “punitive panda diplomacy.” Two other American zoos have lost pandas recently, and zoos in Scotland and Australia face similar situations.

The Chinese government currently lends pandas to 19 countries for cooperative research programs. These pandas return to China when they reach old age, and cubs born abroad are sent to China around age 3 or 4. The departure of the National Zoo’s pandas would leave the Atlanta Zoo as the only place in the U.S. with pandas until its loan agreement expires late next year. The situation reflects broader diplomatic tensions between China and Western governments. Some hope for high-level intervention to resolve the panda situation, but for now, panda enthusiasts are making pilgrimages to see the bears before their departure.

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