Xi entertains Northwest panda push
President Xi Jinping has heard Washington state’s call for a couple of pandas, and he is listening.
“On your request for panda cooperation between our two sides, I have instructed competent departments in China to carry out relevant studies,” Xi wrote in a Nov 13 letter.
The letter was distributed on Monday at a press conference in Seattle.
“The State Forestry Administration of China is ready to engage in preliminary technical exchanges with Washington state on joint panda research, with a view to creating conditions for future cooperation,” the president wrote.
The Chinese president was in Washington state in September, the first stop of his state visit to the US.
The Northwest is the only region in the country without a panda. Giant pandas are currently romping around zoos in Washington, DC; Atlanta; Memphis, Tennessee; and San Diego.
In October, more than 40 Washington state legislators signed a letter to Xi in the hope of getting the panda process moving.
An Oct 7 letter from the Washington State Senate signed by 12 senators said that “with the initial establishment of a sister-state agreement with Sichuan Province in 1982, Washington State is prepared to host pandas for the enjoyment of our people and to expand our cultural relationship and focus on exchanges to further the important and special relationship with the people of Sichuan and China”.
More than 30 Washington state House members sent a similar letter.
US Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell wrote to the Chinese ambassador in February inquiring about pandas, and US Congressman Derek Kilmer sent a letter to a top official in Sichuan province a year ago, the News Tribune of Tacoma reported.
Ron Chow, a Lakewood businessman, created the Washington State Panda Foundation to help in the effort.
“We still have a lot of work ahead,” Chow told the News Tribune. “We’re not even 10 percent there yet.”
The furry black-and-white animals pack in the crowds, but they carry a high price tag. A pair of pandas are “rented” from China for $1 million a year, with the money set aside for conservation programs in China. Hosting zoos also must pay $400,000 for every panda born, and the animals are returned to China after a few years.
activists oppose panda programs because the animals are captive. And some zoos just don’t have the financial wherewithal not only for the annual fees but in the pandas’ feeding, the building of a panda habitat, and the hiring of specialized staff.
On Dec 14, the media got its first glimpse of Bei Bei (“dear little one” in Chinese), a giant panda cub twin born on Aug 22 at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington. His twin did not survive and died on Aug 25.
Bei Bei, who weighs about 18 pounds, is still being nursed by his mother, Mei Xiang, but he will be ready to meet visitors on Jan 16. Bei Bei’s father, Tian Tian, and 2-yearold sister Bao Bao also are at the zoo.
“The National Zoo gets about 2.5 million visitors a year, and we know a lot of our visitors make giant pandas their first stop,” said Brandie Smith, associate director for Animal Care Sciences.
“Right now, Bei Bei is not ready to go out yet, as he cannot walk. We usually try to make it five to six months of age,” Laurie Thompson, giant panda biologist with the zoo, told China Daily on Dec 14.
Even though it was the first “press conference” for Bei Bei (who was named by first ladies Peng Liyuan and Michelle Obama), panda lovers have been able to observe him almost since his birth on the zoo’s panda cam.
Dong Leshuo in Washington contributed to this story.
Giant panda cub Bei Bei at the National Zoo in Washington is seen during his veterinary exam on Dec 2.