1/2-year-old Tai Shan of Washington and 3-year-old Mei Lan of Atlanta will fly to new homes in Sichuan, China.
“Tai Shan and Mei Lan not only represent the crystalization of American and Chinese cooperation to preserve pandas but also the friendship of the Chinese and American people,” said Xie Feng, deputy chief of mission at the Chinese embassy in Washington in a farewell speech to the two pandas.
Tai Shan was born in Washington four-and-a-half years ago, to parents loaned to the United States by Beijing, and Mei Lan came into the world, the size of a stick of butter, at the Atlanta zoo three years ago.
But under agreements with the Chinese government, both were supposed to head to China when they turned two to join the panda breeding program.
Zookeepers fed Tai Shan apple and pear slices by hand through bars in his shipping crate before he left for Dulles International Airport early Thursday in a caravan escorted by U.S. Park Police. He munched calmly and looked out through clear plastic windows.
Pandas have a long, symbolic history in Washington. The first panda couple, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, arrived in 1972 as a gift to the American people from China after President Richard Nixon’s historic visit.
The pair lived more than 20 years at the zoo and produced five cubs — but none survived.
In Atlanta, as Mei Lan was loaded onto the Panda Express the curator of mammals Rebecca Snyder called the female panda’s departure “a bittersweet moment for the Zoo Atlanta family and for fans around the world.”
Giant pandas are an endangered species, with only 1,600 of the black and white bears living in the wild.
Tai Shan and Mei Lan will go to separate refuges after their arrival in Sichuan province, which is home to 75 percent of the world’s giant panda population.
Filed Under: Animal & Plant Life