There will soon be no pandas in the U.S. for the first time since 1972, after U.S. zoos' agreements with China are set to expire by the end of next year.
The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. announced that its pandas Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, and Xiao QI Ji will return to China by December. According to the zoo, this is due to its three-year agreement the China Wildlife Conservation Association. Usually, the Smithsonian Institution will renew contracts when the time comes; however, this year, attempts have failed.
The move comes as zoos in Memphis, Atlanta, and San Diego have already returned their pandas or are going to by the end of the year, marking the first time in 50 years the U.S. will not have any pandas.
History between US and Chinese pandas
Some suspect the relations between the U.S. and China are why pandas in the U.S. are returning to China.
The U.S. was awarded its first panda by China in 1972. China's gift was given after President Nixon formalized normal relations with China, a practice that some have dubbed "panda diplomacy." For decades, China has loaned pandas to other countries in hopes that it will build ties with said countries.
Britain will also lose two pandas from the Edinburgh Zoo in December new contracts are not reached, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland said.
How many pandas are left in the US?
Atlanta will soon be home to the last group of pandas in the U.S., but those four are set to leave soon as well.
According to a statement by Zoo Atlanta, contracts for their twin pandas Ya Lun and Xi Lun are up in early 2024. Meanwhile, Ya Lun's and Xi Lun's parents, Lun Lun and Yang Yang, are set to stay at Zoo Atlanta until late 2024, when their loan expires.
"No discussions have yet occurred with partners in China about the status of Zoo Atlanta's giant panda program beyond the end of the loan in 2024," the zoo said in an April statement.
The San Diego Zoo said goodbye to its pandas in 2019. The zoo stated that its loan agreement with the people of the Republic of China had also expired. Bai Yun, a giant female panda, and her son, Xiao Liwu, were sent back to China.
The Memphis Zoo panda, Ya Ya, returned in April of this year.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Panda bears leaving the US to return to China: National Zoo loses 3