November 6, 2007

San Diego Zoo Panda Leaves for China

SAN DIEGO (AP) - A male panda born four years ago at the San Diego Zoo left for China on Monday to join that country's breeding program.

Mei Sheng, which translates as "Born in the USA," was sent to the Wolong Nature Reserve for Giant Pandas as part of a loan agreement requiring all pandas born outside China to be returned there after the animals mature, zoo officials said.

"Mei Sheng will be missed ... but his role in the conservation of his species involves a move to China," said Ron Swaisgood of the zoo's Giant Panda Conservation Unit.

"As a critically endangered species, it is vital that Mei Sheng is in a place where he will be around other pandas, and the Wolong Nature Reserve is a great home," Swaisgood said.

Only about 1,600 giant pandas remain in the wild, and fewer than 180 live in captivity.

Mei Sheng was the second giant panda born in the U.S. to be sent to China. Hua Mei, born at the San Diego Zoo in 1999, was also sent to the Wolong reserve. She has since given birth to three cubs in China.