There are only 4 pandas left in the US after China took the other bears back — and they won't be here for long

image of giant panda resting on rocks
Three-year-old Xiao Qi Ji was one of three giant pandas from DC's National Zoo returned to China on Wednesday.Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images
  • Only four giant panda bears are left in the US.

  • The National Zoo's three pandas boarded a plane destined for China on Wednesday.

  • China has been taking its loaned pandas back. Call it "panda diplomacy."

All three panda bears at Washington DC's National Zoo departed for China on Wednesday, leaving behind only four giant pandas in all of the US.

And the last bears won't be here for much longer either.

All panda bears at zoos throughout the US are loaned out by the Chinese government as part of the country's international diplomacy efforts, Insider previously reported.

But China hasn't been renewing the pandas' leases. The San Diego Zoo already returned its bears in 2019, the Memphis Zoo gave its black-and-white critters back in April, and now, the National Zoo's are gone too.

That leaves only four pandas at Zoo Atlanta — but, even they are expected to return to China when their lease expires at the end of next year unless a new deal is struck.

Experts have speculated that China is pulling its pandas back because of its tense relationship with the US in recent years.

"This is perhaps Beijing's way of signaling to the West that they may not be very happy with how things are going," Chee Meng Tan, an expert in "panda diplomacy," told The Washington Post.

So book your trip to Atlanta now to see the bears while you can; unless the US and China can mend their relations, we may soon become an entirely panda-less country.

Still, some are hopeful this is a temporary blip. The National Zoo is spending $1.7 million to update the panda habitat in case the bears return.

Read the original article on Insider