Pandas headed home

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By HEZI JIANG in New York hez­i­jiang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Gi­ant panda twins Mei Lun and Mei Huan boarded a plane in At­lanta headed for Chengdu early Thurs­day morn­ing, tak­ing with them 375 pounds of bam­boo, eight gal­lons of wa­ter and 25 pounds of treats — sug­ar­cane, ba­nanas and bis­cuits — for the 38-hour jour­ney.

The 3-year-old twins born in the At­lanta zoo are the first sur­viv­ing gi­ant panda twins in the United States. They are the daugh­ters of Lun Lun and Yang Yang, who ar­rived in 1999 on loan from China.

Ac­cord­ing to an agree­ment reached by the two coun­tries, panda cubs born in the US to par­ents on loan from China are to be re­turned to China be­fore turn­ing four to take part in breed­ing projects.

Af­ter a lay­over in South Korea, Mei Lin and Mei Huan will ar­rive on Satur­day at their new home at the Chengdu Re­search Base of Gi­ant Panda Breed­ing, where their par­ents were born and their older broth­ers and sis­ter, Mei Lan, Xi Lan and Po, now re­side.

“This is a mile­stone to be cel­e­brated,” said Ray­mond B. King, pres­i­dent and CEO of Zoo At­lanta. “While the Zoo At­lanta fam­ily and their many fans will miss see­ing Mei Lun and Mei Huan in At­lanta, we’re very proud to see two more At­lantaborn gi­ant pandas go to join such an im­por­tant pro­gram.”

“It’s a tribute to the suc­cess of the Zoo At­lanta gi­ant panda pro­gram and to the com­mit­ment of our in­ter­na­tional part­ners who are help­ing us save this species,” he said.

Re­cently the In­ter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture up­graded the gi­ant panda’s sta­tus from “en­dan­gered” to “vul­ner­a­ble”, but the species re­mains heav­ily re­liant on con­ser­va­tion pro­grams.

Fewer than 1,900 gi­ant pandas are es­ti­mated to re­main the wild in China’s Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu prov­inces, where they face con­tin­u­ing threat from habi­tat frag­men­ta­tion and loss from hu­man ac­tiv­ity such as de­for­esta­tion. More than 1,200 of China’s re­main­ing wild gi­ant pandas live in­side na­ture re­serves, many of which are sup­ported by US zoos.

Once the twins leave, there will be 13 pandas still in the US — four in At­lanta (the twins’ par­ents and their new sis­ter twins born on Sept 3), four in Wash­ing­ton, three in San Diego and two in Mem­phis.

The Na­tional Zoo in Wash­ing­ton will be say­ing good­bye to its panda cub Bao Bao in 2017.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Mei Huan ex­am­ines a “pass­port” on Oct 30 at the At­lanta Zoo that cel­e­brates her and twin sis­ter Mei Lun’s tran­si­tion to a new home at the Chengdu Re­search Base of Gi­ant Panda Breed­ing. The pair headed back to China on Thurs­day.

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