Two giant pandas are headed to DC’s National Zoo from China

It’s been a long and terrifying six months without giant pandas, Washington’s most famous symbol of gentle diplomacy, but this unbearable (sorry) drought will soon come to an end.

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute announced Wednesday that two new elusive diplomats will be visiting the United States from China. Pandas Bao Li and King Bao will be flown by the end of the year The zoo said in a statement.

They are both 2 years old — young for a Washington power couple — and their expected arrival follows the departure in November of two adult pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, ​​who are the grandparents of the male, Bao Li.

The giant panda relocation is a feature of a long-term agreement between the Smithsonian and the China Wildlife Conservation Society. Last year, when the agreement to keep the trio in the U.S. expired, panda fans and diplomats worried about tensions between China and Washington and whether those strained ties could prevent the program from continuing.

At a diplomatic summit in San Francisco in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping hinted that the pandas, which he called “ambassadors of friendship” between the two countries, could return to the United States. The two zoos hammered out another deal without the help of high-level diplomacy, according to officials familiar with the deal who were not authorized to speak publicly about such delicate matters. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed earlier this month that the San Diego Zoo will also receive a pair of pandas.

The point of the agreement between Washington and Beijing is to help foster the breeding and care of the animals, and each panda birth is closely watched and celebrated. If the past Washington Pandas are any indication, the two freshmen arriving on a special FedEx flight will touch off much fanfare.

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The new couple has Washington roots: Bao Li’s mother, Bao Bao, was born in the capital. Michelle Obama attended her brother Pei Pei’s christening in 2015.

Losses are also regretted. Newborn panda cubs are about the size of a stick of butter and are very fragile – small and pink, they can be easily injured by human handlers or the mother. Since they are born almost hairless, their body temperature must be constantly regulated. When they urinate or defecate, human helpers must ensure that their fluid and nutrient levels are healthy.

Beneath these closely watched confines — there’s a live panda game, but you probably know that — Bao Bao is a success story and has become a celebrity by the time he’s shipped to China in 2017.

While they lived in Washington, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian fathered four cubs that survived beyond infancy. Their eldest cub, Tai Shan, was born in 2005 and sent to China in 2010. Fans in Washington He regretted the bear’s departure. Mei Xiang’s youngest child, Xiao Qi Ji, was born during the epidemic, at an age when scientists thought she could no longer have children.

The Smithsonian said the terms of the new agreement are similar to previous agreements. Bao Li and Qing Bao and any offspring they have belong to China, and any foals born in Washington must be returned by age 4. Pandas are expensive to care for and study, and the Smithsonian A $25 million fundraising campaign It will help increase the budget of the project.

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