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America's 'panda-monium' ending; last giant pandas in US heading back to China

Atlanta, Georgia — It's clear, in black and white. America's panda-monium is ending, with the news that the last giant pandas in the U.S. will return to China later this year. 

More than two decades after capturing hearts, Zoo Atlanta’s four giant pandas, Lun Lun, Yang Yang, Ya Lun and Xi Lun will travel to China later this year, as the zoo’s agreement with China is set to expire in late 2024, the zoo announced in a news release.

“Zoo Atlanta does not own the pandas; they have always resided in Atlanta as part of an agreement with China. We have merely been fortunate enough to be their stewards and introduce so many people here in the U.S. to this species,” a zoo spokesperson said.

The zoo applied for the pandas’ international travel permit, and the bears are expected to travel to China sometime in the fourth quarter of 2024. But the exact timing of their return has yet to be determined and “will be identified collaboratively with official partners in China.”

PandaCam: Watch Giant Pandas Live 🐼

The zoo’s panda program was “notably successful in terms of future contributions to the population of the species,” with seven giant pandas born at the zoo since 2006, including two pairs of twins. Lun Lun and Yang Yang are the parents of Ya Lun and Xi Lun. The pair’s other offspring already returned to the Chengdu Research Center of Giant Panda Breeding in China.

Severe threats from humans have left just over 1,800 pandas in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which lists the species as vulnerable and describes them as the world’s rarest bear. Habitat destruction and fragmentation has contributed to the species’ decline.

It’s unclear what’s next (if anything) for the zoo’s giant panda program.

“While Zoo Atlanta remains committed to the stewardship and long-term conservation of the species, no discussions have yet taken place with partners in China as to the future of the zoo’s giant panda program following the expiration of Zoo Atlanta’s current agreement,” the release added.

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