The National Zoo’s famous pandas are heading to China
They are leaving town and – for their millions of adoring fans – you could describe that as unbearable.
After more than two decades of “panda diplomacy,” pandas, which are very popular in Washington, were returned to China on Wednesday.
The Smithsonian National Zoo’s three current pandas, Mei Xiang (May-Shong), Tian Tian (Tie-Yen-Tie-Yen) and Xiao Zhi Ji (Xiao-Chi-Jie), are scheduled to be loaded into special crates Wednesday morning for a 19 days. One-hour flight on FedEx “Giant Panda Express” to Chengdu, China.
They will be accompanied by animal care experts and 220 pounds of fresh bamboo, their favorite food.
But because they are in boxes, the pandas, who have delighted park-goers with their slow-moving antics over the years, will not be visible to those who want to say a final goodbye.
Mei Xiang and Tian Tian arrived in Washington in 2000, and their fourth cub, Xiao Zhijie, was born in 2020. Xiao Zhijie’s siblings were sent to China when they were each two or three years old, after their birth caused a national sensation. . .
The National Zoo has housed giant pandas since 1972, when Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong gifted President Richard Nixon a pair of musk oxen, Hsing Sheng and Ling Ling, in exchange for a pair of Arctic musk oxen, gestures of goodwill such as nations. Open diplomatic relations.
After the original panda pair died in 1999, the National Zoo signed a contract with the China Wildlife and Conservation Association (CWCA) – the “Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement” – and welcomed Mei Xiang and Tian Tian the following year. Under a 10-year contract that has since been renewed three times.
Since 1984, Chinese wildlife organizations have begun loaning pandas to other countries, rather than giving them away, in order to conserve pandas.
With Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and Xiao Zhijie gone to China, the only pandas remaining in the United States will be at Zoo Atlanta, whose contract expires at the end of 2024.
Their departure comes shortly before the White House announced that President Joe Biden will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this month during an economic summit in San Francisco, amid tensions between the two countries.
The panda’s return was originally scheduled for December, then was moved to November 15, and it was not clear why it was postponed to this week.
“Giant pandas are not political,” Pamela Baker Mason, communications director for the National Zoo, said in a previous interview. “We’ve been doing this for 51 years, and we’re very close with our Chinese partners, and we work very well together. So, it’s about that relationship, it’s about how people from China and the United States deal not just with China. But from around the world, work together with a view to One, one mission.”
But when asked in a recent interview if there were attempts to extend the panda’s contract, zoo director Brandy Smith did not answer directly.
“Our focus is on the reproduction of giant pandas, and the type of behaviors associated with that,” she said. “So, we knew that when the pandas reach the post-reproductive stage, they will return to China to live out their golden years in their homelands.” Letters of News. “And so our plan was always to send them to China at this time.”
ABC News’ Megan Mistry contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on abcnews.go.com