China's Xi Jinping hinted at a return of the popular giant panda loan program. This would help another generation of Americans get to know these remarkable animals.
The giant pandas that have roamed a few select U.S. zoos for the last half century have captivated visitors who flocked to exhibits and lined up to see the debut of panda cubs and marvel at what seemed like plush toys come to life. So people were understandably bummed when the Chinese government ordered all remaining pandas in U.S. zoos back to China. We don't know exactly why the Chinese ended the panda loan but we were heartened to hear Chinese President Xi Jinping say on Wednesday after meeting with President Biden in Northern California that the Chinese "Are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation." He said he'd learned that the San Diego Zoo and people in California "Very much look forward to welcoming pandas back." The only giant pandas to call California home were those loaned to the San Diego Zoo, which returned its last pandas to China in 2019. It's still promising and unexpected good news that the Chinese would agree to share their pandas with us again. The National Zoo as well as Zoo Atlanta, the San Diego Zoo and the Memphis Zoo would go on, collectively, to host more than a couple dozen pandas - including the bevy of surviving cubs born here - over the last several decades. U.S. zoos paid $1 million per year for the pandas - funds that went to China for conservation and research.