Zoo To Bid Farewell To Last Giant Pandas In US

Zoo Atlanta is preparing to send the last four giant pandas in the United States back to China later this year, as a 25-year agreement that brought the bears to the city is set to expire.

Lun Lun and Yang Yang, along with their twins Ya Lun and Xi Lun, who were born at the zoo in 2016, will be returned to China by the end of 2024, according to a statement from the zoo.

The pandas have been the only ones in the U.S. since November when three pandas from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., were sent back to China after a 10-year stay.

Zoo Atlanta officials said the process of returning the pandas is extensive and requires months of planning. The zoo has applied for the pandas’ international travel permit, and the bears are expected to depart for China sometime in the fourth quarter of 2024.

The pandas at Zoo Atlanta are on loan from China as part of a “panda diplomacy” program that began in 1972. While the animals are loaned to American zoos, China has always retained ownership of the bears.

The expiration of the agreement reflects a broader shift in the Chinese government’s sentiment toward other countries, according to Barbara K. Bodine, director of Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.

Despite the departure of the pandas from Zoo Atlanta, there may be more giant pandas in the U.S. in the near future, with the San Diego Zoo and the San Francisco Zoo both vying to host the beloved animals.