Atlanta zoo set to return last giant pandas in US to China

Zoo Atlanta is preparing to send its giant pandas back to China, following suit with other states, the zoo confirmed Friday in a press release.

“With the 2024 expiration of Zoo Atlanta’s giant panda agreement with China, preliminary plans are underway for Lun Lun, Yang Yang, Ya Lun, and Xi Lun to travel to China later this year,” the release reads.

“Zoo Atlanta has applied for the pandas’ international travel permit, and the bears are expected to travel to China sometime in the fourth quarter of 2024,” the zoo added. “No more specific information on timing of the pandas’ travels is available at this time; timing will be identified collaboratively with official partners in China.”

Zoo officials noted that the process for returning the pandas, which are on loan from China per the website, is extensive and requires months of planning.

The pandas at Zoo Atlanta are the last remaining pandas in the U.S., as the bears at other zoos across the nation — including ones in Memphis, Tenn., and Washington, D.C. — returned their pandas back to China recently.

However, San Francisco is set to get its own pair of pandas next year, Mayor London Breed announced last month.

“San Francisco is absolutely thrilled that we will be welcoming Giant Pandas to our San Francisco Zoo,” Breed said in a statement.

China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) Secretary-General Wu Minglu said that the organization will collaborate with officials in the Bay Area city to get ready for the pandas’ arrival in 2025, according to The Associated Press.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, during a meeting with business executives in the city last November, called the bears “envoys of friendship.”

The panda exchange with China began under an agreement brokered by then-President Nixon in 1972, which led to several pandas being loaned to U.S. zoos for research purposes.

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