Source: CNN

Three giant pandas, Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, and their cub Xiao Qi Ji, left the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC, and flew back to China, marking the end of over 50 years of Chinese pandas being housed at the zoo. The move is described as a “hiatus” in the zoo’s popular panda program, with uncertainty about its continuation. The departure leaves Zoo Atlanta as the only other U.S. zoo with pandas from China, but their contracts expire next year.

The “panda diplomacy” between China and the U.S., initiated in 1972, facilitated the loan of pandas to U.S. zoos, promoting diplomatic ties and conservation efforts. The move comes amid diplomatic tensions, and videos on Chinese social media earlier this year raised concerns about pandas’ treatment in U.S. zoos. The fate of future panda loans to the U.S. remains uncertain.

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