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Giant Pandas to Stay in US Zoo Five More Years

  • Zulima Palacio

Mei Xiang at Washington's National Zoo, Jan 201, 2011

Mei Xiang at Washington's National Zoo, Jan 201, 2011

The Chinese pandas at the National Zoo in Washington have a new lease on American life. They will stay in Washington D.C. for five more years. The announcement and the signing of a Chinese-American agreement for cooperative research and breeding took place at the Zoo on Thursday. During the ceremony, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian were in the background, enjoying a breakfast of bamboo and "fruitsicles".

While government officials from the U.S. and China were making the announcement and signing a new agreement on the Giant Pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian were enjoying a breakfast of fresh bamboo and "fruitsicles," made of apples, pears and frozen apple juice.

At the National Zoo, officials from the two nations signed a new “Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement,” extending the current program for five years.

That means that Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, two popular residents, will stay five more years at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, their home for the last 10 years.

Dennis Kelly, the zoo's director, said the agreement emphasizes breeding and will bring experts from China's Conservation and Research Center for Giant Pandas in the town of Wolong, in Sichuan province.

"Not if but when we successfully produce a cub, that cub or cubs will remain here at the Zoo until the age of four," said Kelly.

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian have not produced a cub since 2005. Tai Shan, their cub, was returned to China one year ago.

During the signing ceremony, Chen Wangxia, wife of the Chinese ambassador to the United States, spoke like an aspiring grandparent.

"I can see how deeply the American people care for and love giant pandas," said Chen Wangxia. "I sincerely hope they will get a chance to bring another adorable cub"

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said the pandas symbolize the partership between the U.S. and China. He said the new agreement is a "win win" for researchers, for the two countries and mostly for the giant pandas.

“Giant pandas are among the most endangered animals on earth," Salazar said. "With only 1,600 individuals in the wild, now two strong nations are coming together to conserve these animals for generations to come."

If the giant pandas do not produce a cub in two years, the two nations will discuss exchanging them for a new pair from China. Any offspring and the parents belong to the People's Republic.

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