January 20, 2011

China Extending Panda Diplomacy Agreement With US

A Chinese conservation official said on Wednesday that China is extending its so-called panda diplomacy agreement with the U.S., which would allow giant pandas to stay at the National Zoo in Washington for another five years.

"This is a great opportunity ... to advance our friendship," Zang Chunlin, secretary-general of the China Wildlife Conservation Association, told reporters.

A signing ceremony to extend the just-completed decade-long agreement was to take place Thursday at the zoo.

The cooperative agreement put in place in 2002 between the two countries "loaned" a panda pair to the U.S. for $10 million for 10 years, with the money to go to panda conservation research in China.

Zang said through an interpreter that the extended agreement runs through December 2015 and is valued at $500,000 per year.

Zang said that China plans to send experts on anesthesia, mating, breeding and cub-raising to the U.S., adding "We hope to see some good results at an early date."

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian have already produced one cub, the immensely popular Tai Shan was born on July 9, 2005 and returned to China in February 2010 after his departure was twice delayed.

"Panda cubs belong to China and when they become a certain age they must be returned," Zang said. He noted the "very touching farewell activities" that attended Tai Shan's departure from Washington.

He said that Tai Shan is living a "happy life" in a "paradise of the returned pandas" in China but did not directly answer a question about whether Tai Shan might return to the U.S.

The zoo is watching Mei Xiang for signs she is ready to mate.  According to the zoo's website, there was "no significant progress" for the female, while Tian Tian "had another consistent week of rut behaviors."

Pandas are difficult to breed because females ovulate only once per year and can only become pregnant during that two- or three-day period.

Modern Sino-U.S. panda diplomacy started in 1972 when China donated giant pandas Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing to the U.S. after President Richard Nixon's visit to China.  This first pair produced no cubs that survived longer than a few days.


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