Back to China: Contracts End for All Pandas in American Zoos
China intends to return all its pandas living in US zoos in the near future, reports Bloomberg. China has long employed "panda diplomacy" tactics to gain support, reward allies, and punish adversaries.
This move could lead to the loss of American zoos' resident pandas, precisely at a time when relations between the US and China are at an all-time low, with cooperation severed in most areas.
By December 2023, three pandas from the National Zoo in Washington are set to return to China, concluding a lengthy three-year agreement with China's wildlife agency. Three other American zoos, home to Chinese pandas in Atlanta, San Diego, and Memphis, have either already returned the animals or plan to do so by the end of the next year.
The United States received its first pandas after the normalization of relations between the countries in 1972 during President Richard Nixon's tenure. In 2018, China even loaned pandas to Finland in honor of the country's centenary of independence.
On the other hand, there are non-political reasons for the pandas' return to China. One of them is that all pandas leaving American zoos have reached or will soon reach the age at which, according to agreements, they were supposed to return to China. It's noted that the pandemic-related disruptions have also caused delays in the return of some animals.
Another reason for returning the pandas to China is that pandas are no longer considered a critically endangered species. Therefore, China is actively developing its own network of national parks and likely sees no need to send them abroad for conservation and breeding.
Additionally, recently, a penguin from the Edinburgh Zoo, Sir Nils Olav III, was promoted to the rank of Major General by the Royal Guards of Norway and became their official mascot. Around 160 soldiers in military attire visited the Scottish zoo to pay tribute to this outstanding penguin. The bird, previously a Brigadier, now also holds the title of Baron of the Bouvet Islands. Sir Nils Olav is one of a long line of royal penguins serving in the Norwegian Armed Forces.
In 1961, the Norwegian Royal Guard visited Edinburgh, and Lieutenant Nils Egelein was captivated by the penguin colony in the zoo, noting that their march closely resembled the marching of the guards themselves. Ten years later, upon returning to the Scottish capital, Egelein arranged with the Royal Guard for the "adoption" of one of the penguins, naming it Nils Olav in honor of Nils Egelein and King Olav V of Norway, who was reigning at the time.