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What’s Black and White and Heading to the San Francisco Zoo?

What’s Black and White and Heading to the San Francisco Zoo?

Pandas at the San Diego Zoo in San Diego. (Courtesy of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance)

Sophie Li

Sophie Li

4/19/2024

Updated: 4/22/2024

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Northern California panda enthusiasts will soon welcome a new addition as San Francisco prepares to host its first giant pandas in decades.
Mayor London Breed announced on April 19 that she had signed the city’s first official lease agreement with Chinese wildlife officials that morning, allowing giant pandas to take up residency at the San Francisco Zoo.
“San Francisco is absolutely thrilled that we will be welcoming giant pandas to our San Francisco Zoo,” the mayor stated in an announcement from Beijing during a visit.
In February, Ms. Breed and more than 70 local Chinese and Asian Pacific Islander (API) community members sent a letter to Chinese leader Xi Jinping advocating for San Francisco to host pandas.
Her trip continues the momentum from last year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and Xi’s visit to San Francisco, aiming to strengthen ties with China and boost tourism between the two regions.
“We have been working closely with our local API community to advocate for pandas nearly a year ago leading up to APEC in November [2023], and it’s an honor that our city has been chosen for the first time to be a long-term home for giant pandas,” Ms. Breed said. “This is a momentous opportunity, and one I am grateful for. I know I join so many who can’t wait to see them in San Francisco.”
The mayor was scheduled to finish her trip on April 21.
The arrival date and number of pandas are still uncertain, but pandas usually arrive in pairs to facilitate reproduction.
The timeline for the zoo arrival depends on the completion of a specialized panda enclosure, the city said. However, preliminary planning for the enclosure had already begun as part of the city’s campaign for the pandas.
Additionally, engineers from the Beijing Zoo visited San Francisco last week to collaborate with local zoo engineers on the design and construction of the enclosure.
In May, a delegation from China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration and Wildlife Conservation Association will visit San Francisco to discuss the timeline and construction plans, according to the statement.
Having the black-and-white bears in town could significantly enhance the city’s economic and tourism sectors, adding a major attraction to San Francisco’s offerings, according to the city.
The San Francisco Zoo previously hosted giant pandas from China for three-month stints as part of a global tour in both 1984 and 1985. According to city officials, the visits drew more than 260,000 visitors to the zoo, roughly four times the average attendance for that time, according to the statement.
San Diego was the first California city to win a bid to host two pandas, according to a February statement from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office. The San Diego Zoo last hosted a pair of giant pandas five years ago, before they were returned to China.
China has a longstanding tradition of using “panda diplomacy” by gifting or leasing pandas to other countries. Since 1972, when China gave a pair to the National Zoo in Washington during President Richard Nixon’s administration, the black-and-white bears have symbolized diplomatic ties between the United States and China.
However, in the late 1990s, China shifted its approach to a conservation-focused lease model for such exchanges, as reported by the Congressional Research Service in 2022.
Currently, leasing a pair of pandas typically involves an annual fee of $1 million, with the funds directed toward conservation efforts, according to the report.
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Sophie Li

Sophie Li

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Sophie Li is a Southern California-based reporter covering local daily news, state policies, and breaking news for The Epoch Times. Besides writing, she is also passionate about reading, photography, and tennis.

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