San Diego Zoo to return giant pandas to China

The San Diego Zoo will return its last two giant pandas to China in April, the zoo announced Monday afternoon.

The pandas, a 27-year-old female named Bai Yin and her 6-year-old son Xiao Liwu, will be repatriated under the terms of a conservation loan agreement with the Chinese government, according to the zoo.

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“The San Diego Zoo was honored to be chosen by conservationists in China to work with them to develop a new model for species conservation,” Douglas G. Myers, president and CEO of San Diego Zoo Global, said in a statement. “The panda program we began together demonstrates how powerful these collaborative efforts can be. We are extremely grateful to China for sharing the pandas with us and offering us the chance to serve this species in a leadership role.”

The announcement follows the repatriation last October of the zoo’s third panda, Gao Gao, and comes as the zoo meets the initial panda conservation goals it set a quarter century ago, according to Carmi Penny, the zoo’s director of collections husbandry science.

“Now, we must look to the future with a new set of objectives—and, along with our collaborators in China, we want to build on our current conservation successes while attaining a deeper understanding of the panda,” Penny said in the statement.

Bai Yun has been at the zoo for 23 years as part of the multiyear international agreement, although zoo officials told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the return was always planned for April and was not recently requested by the Chinese government amid trade tensions with the U.S. government.

“We have high hopes for pandas returning but I don’t know that we have any set date when they might return,” Shawn Dixon, chief operating officer for the San Diego Zoo, told the Union-Tribune.