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In a rare loan from China, two giant pandas are moving to a California zoo.

China has recently announced that two giant pandas will be heading to the San Diego Zoo, marking the first time in 20 years that new panda loans have been granted to the United States.

A spokesperson for the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance confirmed the news to CNN on Wednesday, expressing optimism about the pandas’ arrival in the near future. Although no specific timeline has been provided yet, there’s hope that it will happen sooner rather than later.

This decision follows a suggestion made by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who proposed sending new pandas to the US, particularly to the San Diego Zoo, as a gesture of friendship between the Chinese and American people. Xi’s proposal in November emphasized China’s dedication to panda conservation and fostering stronger connections with Californians.

The announcement comes after the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC, recently returned its three pandas to China, marking the end of a longstanding program that housed Chinese pandas for over 50 years. With the conclusion of the National Zoo’s program, Zoo Atlanta remains the only other US zoo featuring pandas.

In 2019, the San Diego Zoo returned its last two pandas to China after their loan agreement expired.

China’s practice of panda diplomacy extends to more than 20 countries, with pandas often serving as symbols of goodwill and diplomacy. Despite strained US-China relations leading to a decrease in panda loans to the US in recent years, Xi’s announcement in November hinted at a potential improvement in relations between the two countries.

Other US zoos are hopeful about the return of pandas, with the Smithsonian National Zoo expressing interest in receiving more pandas. Discussions are also underway for potential cooperation with the National Zoo in Austria.

The global giant panda population remains vulnerable, with fewer than 2,000 pandas remaining in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Overall, the decision to send pandas to the San Diego Zoo highlights China’s commitment to panda conservation and its efforts to strengthen diplomatic ties through panda diplomacy.

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