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“Panda diplomacy” could bring beloved animal back to the San Francisco Zoo

By Devin Fehely

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    SAN FRANCISCO (KOVR) — The Bay Area could be playing a part in “panda diplomacy” with new efforts to bring a giant panda from China to the San Francisco Zoo.

On Monday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed confirmed that the city has put its hat in the ring for a panda.

Pandas are native to China and considered a national treasure there. There are only about 2,500 giant pandas left in the entire world. For decades, China has used its giant pandas as a way to build better relations with other countries by lending them out to zoos.

Many of those existing agreements have run out. The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., just sent its two pandas back to China in November. Currently, Atlanta is the only zoo in the U.S. That has them.

That could change if Breed’s plan is successful. On Monday, she said that she sent a letter in December to Chinese President Xi Jinping, asking China to consider the San Francisco Zoo as a new home for at least one panda.

Just weeks before, President Zi visited San Francisco for the APEC Summit in November. He dropped some hints that pandas will come back to California.

The San Diego Zoo could also be a contender. It hosted pandas starting in the 1990s. The last ones were shipped back to china in 2019. But Mayor Breed thinks San Francisco could have an edge this time.

“I think that San Francisco, as our relationship is, is one of the places that is really the most significant place that something like this can take place,” said the mayor. “In light of our history, in light of our already built in relationship, and also what appears to be a major love affair with San Francisco and the relationship that exists because of the population.”

There’s no time table on when this could happen, but Breed said some experts have checked out the zoo and confirmed it could handle the logistics of hosting pandas. She says there are a ton of positives connected with the move, from building bridges with China, to creating educational opportunities for young people and boosting tourism.

“You know how people line up to buy tickets overnight for Beyoncé? The same thing. That’s my hope. People will line up overnight to see these pandas,” Breed said.

It’s been 40 years since San Francisco last hosted pandas. Back in 1984, two pandas stopped by the San Francisco Zoo for a three-month stay as part of a tour promoting the Olympics in Los Angeles. At the time, they attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors.

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