Xi en­ter­tains North­west panda push

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By HENG WEILI in New York

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.

Some an­i­mal-rights

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.

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