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News Navigator: Why does Xiang Xiang the panda have to be returned to China?

Xiang Xiang the panda chows down on a bamboo shoot in this photo provided by the Ueno Zoological Gardens in Tokyo's Taito Ward.

The Mainichi answers some common questions readers may have about why Xiang Xiang, the panda born at Ueno Zoological Gardens in Tokyo, will eventually have to be sent to China.

Q: Are the giant pandas in Ueno Zoo going back to China?

A: Yes. There are currently three pandas at Ueno Zoological Gardens in Tokyo's Taito Ward: male Ri Ri and female Shin Shin, who both came from China in 2011, as well as their female cub Xiang Xiang, who was born in the zoo and turned 2 in June. All of them are leased from China in accordance with an agreement with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government defining the terms of their stay. The parents will remain up to February 2021, and their daughter until the end of December 2020.

Q: Why do they have to be returned?

A: Pandas are in danger of extinction, with their worldwide population in the wild standing at only about 1,800, all in China. According to the Washington Convention, which restricts the international trade of rare animals, it's illegal to switch ownership of pandas. Therefore, pandas are mostly borrowed from China by way of a joint "breeding research" agreement. Even if loaned pandas breed cubs abroad, China maintains ownership over them. Xiang Xiang was going to be returned when she reached 2 years of age, but the metropolitan government negotiated with China to extend the terms of her return by a year and a half, due to her nationwide popularity.

Q: Is there a way to have her stay?

A: Given that she'll soon need to find a partner, her return seems unavoidable. Pandas can breed from around the ages of 3 1/2 to 4 1/2, but there are roadblocks preventing her from doing so here because of rules against transferring borrowed pandas within their adopted countries and other regulations. It's more likely she'll be able to find a suitable partner among the greater number of potential panda suitors in China.

Q: What about her parents?

A: They seem to go well together, so the metropolitan government intends to request an extension to their term, too. An enclosure 1.7 times larger than their current one is under construction at Ueno Zoo. It will be completed next March, in anticipation of Xiang Xiang's baby brother or sister.


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