Atlanta is the last place to see giant pandas in the U.S. — but maybe not for long

The bears have long been the symbol of the U.S.-China friendship. (Source: POOL/CNN)
Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 11:30 AM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - After the Smithsonian’s National Zoo returned its three giant pandas to China last week, Atlanta remains the only place in the United States to see the beloved bear. But in a summit with President Joe Biden this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping hinted that more pandas could be on the way.

“We are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation, and do our best to meet the wishes of the Californians so as to deepen the friendly ties between our two peoples,” Xi said on Wednesday during a dinner with business leaders, the Associated Press reported.

Zoo Atlanta’s contract with two pandas, twins Ya Lun and Xi Lun, ends in early 2024 with no extension in sight. Xi did not specify when or where the new pandas could come, but he named California, where the San Diego Zoo returned its pandas in 2019.

RELATED: More pandas will be coming to the United States, Chinese president signals

For the U.S. and China, panda bears are more than cute, fuzzy creatures. During the summit, Xi called them “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples.” Giant pandas have been loaned to American zoos for decades, with agreements lasting several years before the bears are shipped back to China.

Foreign policy experts worried the panda pullback may be a sign of tension between the two countries. The gesture to give more pandas could reflect the summit’s goal to stabilize relations.

RELATED: Pandas could be gone from America’s zoos by the end of next year

In a press conference after the summit, Biden said the two leaders agreed to call each other and pick up the phone when they have concerns.

“That’s important progress,” he stressed.