Feature: Americans keen to see return of giant pandas

  • World
  • Saturday, 24 Feb 2024

by Xinhua writer Tan Jingjing

SAN DIEGO, the United States, Feb. 23 (Xinhua) -- Panda lovers in the United States received a long-waited injection of hope after Chinese and U.S. wildlife conservation organizations signed a new round of agreement on giant panda conservation this week.

The China Wildlife Conservation Association inked the agreement with the U.S. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (SDZWA) and Madrid Zoo Aquarium of Spain concerning cooperation on the conservation of giant pandas, as part of efforts to step up the protection of the species on a global level.

"We are humbled by the potential opportunity of continuing our collaborative conservation efforts to secure the future for giant pandas. As such, SDZWA is taking important steps to ensure we are prepared for a potential return. This includes sharing our detailed conservation plans with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure alignment for the greater benefit of giant pandas," said Dr. Megan Owen, SDZWA vice president of conservation science.

The message spread fast among panda lovers in the United States, who are eager to see giant pandas back again. At the San Diego Zoo, many visitors called the news "thrilling," "fantastic" and "amazing."

"I screamed when I got an email from San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance this morning, sharing the news of the return of giant pandas. Wow, we are very very excited," Lillian Hallberg, a visitor from Boston, told Xinhua on Thursday.

"This is wonderful alliance between the U.S. and China," she noted.

Lillian Hallberg and her husband George Hallberg are both panda fans. They have visited the San Diego Zoo and the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C. many times when giant pandas lived there.

"Pandas are one of the iconic species that people everywhere love, because when you look at them, they're roly-poly ... and when you see them in their habitat, they're rolling around, having fun and eating sugar cane. They just make you happy," George Hallberg told Xinhua.

"All U.S. citizens love the panda bears, all over the world too," Lillian Hallberg added.

"They (U.S. and China) are all doing together. The conservation worked. It's very important," George Hallberg noted.

Like the Hallberg family, many Americans are keen to see giant pandas back.

Claudia Rodriguez, a local resident of San Diego, told Xinhua she had great time with the last two giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo, Bai Yun and her son Xiao Liwu, before they returned to China in 2019.

"They were very popular and many people came to see them," she said. "They were so beautiful."

Pandas have long been a symbol of China-U.S. friendship.

In 1972, two giant pandas arrived at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., also known as the U.S. National Zoo, from China as a gift from the Chinese government following then U.S. President Richard Nixon's groundbreaking trip to China.

The San Diego Zoo had pandas from 1996 to 2019, before Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu left the zoo for their homeland in May 2019.

SDZWA has a nearly 30-year conservation partnership with research collaborators in China focused on protecting and recovering giant pandas. These collaborative efforts have had significant impacts, including increased scientific understanding of giant panda biology, care and wellness, and what pandas need to thrive in a changing climate, according to SDZWA.

Currently, the giant panda habitat at the San Diego Zoo is under construction. Preparations are underway for the arrival of pandas.

"Our purpose here is not just to showcase pandas. We obviously want people to connect with them, to fall in love with them like we do, and to support our work in conserving them. But the purpose has been, and will always be conserving the species," Andrew James, senior public relations representative at SDZWA, told Xinhua.

The partnership of SDZWA, its partners in China, and other zoological facilities in the United States and around the world made the last program very successful, he said.

"We will continue to maintain that relationship with our partners in China, and the goal is to conserve them (pandas). We're hoping and we are very confident that the next chapter will be just as successful as the last," James noted.

Jeff He, who traveled from Los Angeles to the San Diego Zoo with his wife and daughter, told Xinhua he expects to see more exchanges and cooperation between the United States and China besides the conservation of giant pandas.

"Pandas serve as good-will ambassadors of China. They are adorable and cute. Hope the return of pandas will bring us more joy and hope," he noted.

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