Officials with the four zoos in the United States that house giant pandas -- including Washington's National Zoo -- hope to renegotiate future loan agreements with China. They say the animals are such a drain on finances that it may make more sense to send them back to the communist country after contracts expire.
Under current agreements, the zoos in Atlanta, Memphis, Washington and San Diego each pay more than $1 million a year for what the Chinese government says is a fund to protect endangered animals. In addition, China charges the zoos a one-time fee of about $600,000 each time a panda cub, such as Tai Shan, is born.
Though most of the money is supposed to go toward panda conservation in China, the U.S. zoo officials say the loan fees and money required for the animals' upkeep here siphons funds from other species that also need protection.
The National Zoo's contract to house two adult pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, expires in 2010. Panda cub Tai Shan, now 7 months old, is slated to be sent to China when he is 2 years old.
[Spokesman John Gibbons] said the National Zoo has joined with the three other zoos to open an informal dialogue with China regarding a new contract. They hope a less-expensive agreement can be reached so that Mei Xiang and Tian Tian perhaps could make Washington their permanent home.
"We know we would not be able to undertake any future loan agreement for giant pandas under the current conditions," Mr. Gibbons said. "That is not to say the National Zoo would not still be involved in our conservation and science efforts with the species. ... We will continue our work with giant pandas, whether they are here in the future or not."
Or the Chinese could build fewer offensive weapons for use against Taiwan and take care of panda habitat themselves.
It would be interesting to see more about the financial implications of pandas at the National Zoo. Since there is no admission charge, they can only hope to get more money from donations, gift shops, and concessions.
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