Beloved panda born at national zoo headed to China

Tai Shan [pronounced ‘ty shawn’] who become hugely popular after his birth at Washington’s National Zoo is due to leave for China in early 2010 for breeding. Scheduled to leave as early as January or February, Tai Shan is the offspring of panda mother Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) and father Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN) a decade long, $10 million loan to the zoo until December 2010.

The loan agreement has many conditions, one of them being that any panda cub born at the zoo must be returned to China for breeding. Born in 2005, Tai Shan was granted an extra two years in 2007. Panda cubs born at the Atlanta and San Diego zoo are also due to leave for China soon.

Tai Shan’s loyal fans have been gathering at the Washington zoo since they heard the news, with most of them having watched the panda grow from a panda cub to a 200 pound panda over four years.

One of his fans, a woman said that she found Tai Shan so captivating that she was inspired to donate thousands of dollars to panda conservation efforts. Another said he was a wonderful ambassador for conservation efforts and said she would miss seeing him at the zoo, and likened it to losing a favourite pet.

China has lent 14 pandas to zoos in the United States: Atlanta, Washington, San Diego and Memphis, Tenn. These pandas are on loan for breeding and conservation research, but any cubs produced immediately become the property of China, and must become part of the country’s breeding program.