Giant pandas have been the main attraction at the National Zoo for years. Despite their popularity, though, the pandas are scheduled to head back to China at the end of the year.
But the zoo is working on a new lease to either keep the pandas or make a swap. Mei Xiang and Tian Tian have been in the nation’s capital for 10 years, but have only produced one cub, Tai Shan, prompting zoo director Dennis Kelly to think about swapping both pandas for new ones.
“We’ve not had a cub here in the last five years,” Kelly told the Washington Post. “What we are talking about is, what can we do to ensure that there is cub in our future?”
Like the Washington Nationals, the National Zoo is talking trade. And Kelly has the experience to try and make the switch happen. He was previously at Zoo Atlanta, where he negotiated an extension of their giant panda lease.
An extension is still a possibility here, as well. But zoo staff seem to think that the breeding potential between Tian Tian and Mei Xiang may be waning.
“There’s some data that suggests that after four [breeding] tries, there’s something [negative] going on,” Kelly told the Post.
Kelly has been in contact with China over the past couple of months to discuss a new lease. He plans on traveling to China in the fall to hopefully seal that deal. Kelly reassures panda lovers that the National Zoo will continue to have giant pandas.
“Our program has been so successful” Kelly told the Post. “And they’re so iconic. And quite frankly, they’re a bridge between our two peoples.”