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News Navigator: Will giant pandas at Ueno zoo have to be returned to China?

Giant panda Ri Ri is seen in this photo provided by the Tokyo Zoological Park Society.

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the possibility of China extending the lease of popular giant pandas at Ueno Zoological Gardens in Tokyo.

    Question: I've heard that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is in talks to extend the lease period for giant pandas at Ueno Zoological Gardens in the capital's Taito Ward. Which pandas are they talking about?

    Answer: They are Ri Ri and his partner Shin Shin, both aged 15. The two came to the zoo from China in February 2011 under a 10-year lease contract between Japan and China until February next year. Looking at zoos overseas, however, it appears that pandas are often leased for around 15 years.

    Although the metropolitan government and China have not arrived at a conclusion, metropolitan officials are apparently asking for a roughly five-year extension on the lease. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has told a press conference, "Pandas are lovable. We will proceed with negotiations with all our strength."

    Q: Can't we extend the lease period for their offspring Xiang Xiang?

    A: Unfortunately, no. Xiang Xiang was born in June 2017 and was initially planned to be sent to China at age 2, but because she became wildly popular, the number of visitors to Ueno zoo picked up, bringing a favorable impact on the local economy. The Tokyo government has already secured an extension of the lease once until the end of this December.

    Q: Can't we do something about it?

    A: Xiang Xiang will soon reach breeding age, which is around 4 to 5 years old. There is no way she can find a mate at Ueno zoo, and she will need to look for a good match in China, where many pandas are in captivity.

    Q: Ueno zoo has recently unveiled a new panda enclosure. Isn't it kind of sad that Xiang Xiang has to leave?

    A: The new facility, called "Panda no Mori" (Panda's forest), was originally created for the parent pandas and opened to the public in September. At the facility, the rich natural landscape of Sichuan, a habitat for pandas in China, is recreated, and there is also a nursery room closed to the public. As pandas are said to be propagable until around 20 years old, authorities have high hopes that Ri Ri and Shin Shin will bear another baby.

    (Japanese original by Asako Takeuchi, City News Department)

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