The agreements between U.S. zoos and China are about to expire by the end of the next year, which represents a big development: the United States will have to say goodbye to its pandas. The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., along with a number of other zoos, made the painful decision to repatriate the beloved giant pandas to China, meaning that this will be the first time since 1972 that the pandas will not be in the United States.

The announcement from the National Zoo:
Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, and the cute baby Xiao Qi Ji, the pandas at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., will all be going back to China by December, the zoo announced recently. The conclusion of the zoo’s three-year contract with the China Wildlife Conservation Association is the reason for this decision. These kinds of agreements are usually extended, but this year’s attempts to do so have failed.

Historical Context of Panda Diplomacy: Since China gave the United States its first panda as a gift in 1972, there have been close ties between the United States and Chinese pandas. This action, dubbed “panda diplomacy,” came after President Nixon had established regular relations between the two countries. China has lent pandas to many nations throughout the years as a diplomatic ploy to strengthen relations between nations.

Strained Relations Suspected: Some believe that the decision to remove pandas from American zoos may be influenced by the tense relations that exist between the United States and China. After years of being a sign of goodwill, panda diplomacy is currently beset with uncertainty due to geopolitical concerns.

U.S. Joins Britain in Panda Absence: The removal of pandas from American zoos is accompanied by a like circumstance in the United Kingdom. In December, two pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo will go if new contracts are not signed. This is a unique time in history when there will be no pandas in the United States or the United Kingdom.

Atlanta is currently home to the last remaining group of pandas in the United States. On the other hand, Ya Lun and Xi Lun’s contracts are scheduled to end in the first part of 2024. The announcement from Zoo Atlanta suggests that there haven’t been any conversations with Chinese partners on the giant panda program’s post-2024 continuation as of yet.