End Of An Era: China Reclaims Pandas From The DC Zoo After Over Two Decades Of Freedom

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Ilan Hulkower Contributor
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Three giant pandas are returning to mainland China on Wednesday after 23 years of living at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

The famed pandas were a part of a diplomatic and conservation program between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, NBC 4 Washington reported. China had loaned the National Zoo two of the giant pandas in 2000, and when the couple produced children these, too, were regarded as on loan from China.

The couple produced four surviving cubs during their time in the U.S. The Chinese government moved three back to the mainland a few years later, according to NBC4. Wednesday’s current shipment of pandas back to China includes the youngest cub alongside its parents.

“As a diplomat in Washington, I say goodbye and bon voyage. As a Chinese government official, I say welcome back,” Chinese diplomat Xu Xueyuan said at the D.C. farewell ceremony, NBC4 reported.

China has a tradition of sending pandas to foreign countries as gifts. The tradition of panda diplomacy spans back at least to 685 CE, according to the South China Morning Post, and was restored back in the 1950s. America’s experience of panda diplomacy began in 1972, when the United States received two pandas following former President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China, CNN reported.