What Ever Happened to the San Diego Zoo Pandas? - LaJolla.com

What Ever Happened to the San Diego Zoo Pandas?

If you were planning on coming to San Diego to see the city’s famous pandas, you will unfortunately be out of luck.

On Wednesday, three pandas at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. were recalled back to China, ending a program that has persisted for 50 years. Earlier in 2023, the last panda at the Memphis, Tennessee zoo also returned to China, according to Fortune Magazine.

But what about the San Diego Zoo pandas? Although the zoo was famous for its cute black-and-white bears, the San Diego Zoo returned all of its pandas to China in 2019.

After the return of the three pandas in D.C., the only panda left in the United States are located at the Atlanta Zoo in Georgia. The agreement that’s keeping those pandas there, however, will expire in late 2024.

So why were the San Diego Zoo pandas recalled back to China? It all comes down to something known as “panda diplomacy.”

For decades, China has used pandas for diplomatic needs, sending pandas to countries like the United States as a gift and an act of good will. However, these pandas were never meant to be a permanent gift — each panda in the U.S. was here on agreements that had expiration dates.

The San Diego Zoo pandas, for example, were gifted to America’s Finest City on a loan agreement that expired in 2019. More specifically, China and the San Diego Zoo agreed on a 12-year research loan in 1996, which was then extended in 2013.

The history of pandas being used as diplomatic tools in the U.S. extends back to the 1970s, when President Richard Nixon sought to improve the relationship between the U.S. and China.

While you can’t see pandas at the San Diego Zoo anymore, you can see a variety of other animals — from elephants and giraffes to kangaroos at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Interested in going? Check out our complete guide to the San Diego Zoo.

Media credit: Image licensed from Adobe