Pandas in U.S. zoos set to return to China by end of 2024

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The National Zoo’s three giant pandas began their journey to China on Nov. 8, 2023. After their departure, the only pandas left in the U.S. will be returned in 2024.
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UPDATE (11/8/2023): The Smithsonian National Zoo’s three giant pandas — Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Xiao Qi Ji — departed the zoo and began their journey to China on Wednesday, Nov. 8, according to zoo officials. Previous reports said the pandas would return in early December.
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Millions of Americans and people worldwide have enjoyed visiting and watching the giant pandas at the Smithsonian National Zoo in the nation’s capital for many years.
But a viral Instagram post from late September claims all of the pandas in U.S. zoos are set to be returned to China after decades of peaceful panda relations between the two countries. VERIFY reader Dallas asked if this is true.
THE QUESTION
Are all zoo pandas in the U.S. set to be returned to China?
THE SOURCES
THE ANSWER
Yes, all zoo pandas in the U.S. are set to be returned to China by the end of 2024.
WHAT WE FOUND
All of the giant pandas in America’s zoos are being returned to China by the end of 2024. The Smithsonian National Zoo’s three giant pandas — Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and their cub Xiao Qi Ji — are set to return to China by mid-November once a decades-long exchange agreement between the United States and the Chinese government ends. After their departure, the only giant pandas left in the U.S. will be returned in 2024.
In April 1972, the National Zoo’s first pair of giant pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, arrived from China as a gift to the American people from the Chinese government to commemorate President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China earlier that year, according to the zoo’s website.
During their 20 years together, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing produced five cubs, but none of the offspring survived for more than a few days. The zoo’s website says that Ling-Ling died of heart failure in 1992, and Hsing-Hsing was euthanized in 1999 after suffering from several debilitating, age-related diseases.
More than a year after Hsing’s Hsing’s death, the National Zoo’s second pair of giant pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, arrived on loan from China on Dec. 6, 2000, when the zoo entered into its Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA).
The zoo’s website explains that the initial agreement stipulated that Mei Xiang and Tian Tian would live there for 10 years. However, that agreement has been renewed three times since 2010. The current agreement extension, signed in December 2020, states that Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and their cub Xiao Qi will return to China before the agreement expires on Dec. 7, 2023.
China currently lends out 65 giant pandas to 19 countries through “cooperative research programs” with a mission to better protect the vulnerable species. The pandas typically return to China when they reach old age, and any cubs born are sent to China around age 3 or 4.
In 2019, the San Diego Zoo returned its two giant pandas to China that were there on loan, and the last giant panda at the Memphis Zoo went back to China in April 2023. After the departure of the National Zoo’s giant pandas in mid-November, only four pandas will be left in the U.S. at Zoo Atlanta; their loan agreement expires in late December 2024.
The National Zoo recently finished a weeklong celebration called Panda Palooza: A Giant Farewell on Oct. 1. If you missed the event, you can watch the zoo’s Giant Panda Cam or visit the zoo to see the three giant pandas before they leave in mid-November.
At this time, it’s unclear if China will loan the U.S. giant pandas again due to diplomatic tensions between the two countries. But the National Zoo says it “hopes to continue this work in the future.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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