Giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian will leave Smithsonian’s National Zoo for China at the end of 2023, the zoo announced Monday, by way of sharing the news of a three-year extension to its agreement with the China Wildlife and Conservation Association. Their cub Xiao Qi Ji is currently slated to leave at the same time, but, a spokesperson for the zoo says, that’s not totally set in stone yet.
The zoo’s most recent deal with the CWCA covered 2015-2020 and called for the pandas to stay in Washington until the end of this year. Despite a trade war initiated by the outgoing President, trade experts generally consider it unlikely that pandas could get caught up in US-China geopolitical calculations: “No government is going to change their policy over pandas,” one researcher told Washingtonian last year.
So while Mei Xiang and Tian Tian must definitely get their passports in order, Xiao Qi Ji, who was born at the zoo this summer, doesn’t need to order a travel pillow just yet. Typically, pandas born at the zoo stay in Washington for four years. “We want to continue our giant program and when it comes time to re-negotiate, we’ll have discussions about conservation, research,” says zoo spokesperson Pamela Baker-Masson, “and what is in the best interest of Xiao Qi Ji and future breeding at our Zoo.”