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Pandas from China, the first to arrive in the U.S. in over 20 years, are currently en route

Yun Chuan and Xin Bao will be the San Diego Zoo’s first giant pandas since 2019, marking a resumption of panda diplomacy between Beijing and Washington.

YA’AN, China — The latest chapter in the storied relationship between China and the United States unfolds as a pair of giant pandas, the first to journey to American shores in over two decades, embark on a voyage from the Bifengxia Giant Panda Base in China’s southwestern Sichuan province to their new home in San Diego. This momentous event marks a resurgence in panda diplomacy, a tactic that Beijing employs to foster international goodwill through the exchange of these beloved black-and-white bears.

The departure ceremony held near the panda base drew dignitaries from both nations, including officials from the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. Against the backdrop of this symbolic event, the crates containing the pandas were solemnly loaded onto a truck bound for Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, where they would commence their journey by air.

Mayor Gloria expressed his elation at the prospect of welcoming pandas back to the San Diego Zoo after a hiatus since 2019, emphasizing the zoo’s longstanding commitment to wildlife conservation. “It continues our long history of being really positive actors in the conservation of animals generally, but particularly endangered animals, like the pandas used to be,” he remarked during an interview at the panda base prior to the send-off ceremony.

Beyond the conservation efforts, the arrival of Yun Chuan, a spirited 4-year-old male, and Xin Bao, a clever and observant 3-year-old female, signifies a positive stride in U.S.-China relations. Amidst ongoing tensions over trade, technology, and geopolitical issues, Mayor Gloria highlighted the pandas’ return as a heartening initiative. “This is a wonderful way to engage our two countries in something that is undeniably positive,” he added.

The pandas’ departure was shrouded in secrecy to prevent large crowds from gathering, a testament to the public’s enduring fascination and affection for these charismatic creatures. San Diego Zoo officials announced that the pandas, on loan for a decade, would undergo a settling-in period before their public debut, ensuring their comfort and acclimatization to their new surroundings.

Pandas have been a symbol of U.S.-China cooperation for decades.
Roshan Patel / Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

Yun Chuan and Xin Bao, known for their distinct personalities, had forged a bond during their quarantine period in China, interacting through a communication tunnel. Their journey to San Diego, spanning approximately 7,000 miles, was meticulously planned to ensure their well-being, with caretakers and veterinarians from both countries accompanying them.

In preparation for their arrival, the San Diego Zoo had undertaken extensive renovations to their panda habitat, expanding its size and incorporating natural features reminiscent of their native Sichuan landscape. Megan Owen, vice president of conservation science at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, explained, “We’ve included topographical features that are similar to what you might see here,” underscoring the zoo’s commitment to providing a comfortable and enriching environment for the pandas.

While in China, Yun Chuan and Xin Bao received medical care, English-language training for commands, and accustomed themselves to their travel crates. Their diet, including bamboo shoots and other favorites, was carefully selected to ensure their nutritional needs were met during the journey.

Upon arrival in the U.S., the pandas faced the challenge of adjusting to different bamboo varieties, a transition that might pose initial dietary challenges, particularly for Yun Chuan. However, caretakers expressed confidence in the pandas’ adaptability, given their prior experience with American bamboo at the San Diego Zoo.

As the pandas settle into their new home, a team from China will remain in San Diego for approximately three months to assist with their adjustment period. The timing of their public debut will depend on how swiftly they acclimate to their new environment, demonstrating the importance of allowing the pandas to dictate their readiness for public viewing.

In conclusion, the journey of Yun Chuan and Xin Bao to San Diego represents not only a significant milestone in panda diplomacy but also a poignant reminder of the enduring bond between China and the United States. Their presence at the San Diego Zoo promises to captivate audiences and serve as a beacon of cooperation and conservation efforts on a global scale.

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