Chinese diplomats crowing about the success of the APEC summit say they’re ready to send some more pandas to U.S. zoos, and San Francisco is reportedly on the short list for getting one.
Who says that nothing good came from APEC? Yes, the November conference was terrible for local businesses, but very successful on the international diplomatic front. So much so that Chinese president Xi Jinping told an APEC dinner audience that "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."
And then last week, NPR reports that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told an audience in China that “preparations are ready for a giant panda return to California within the year."
San Francsico may be getting a panda! 🐼— Dion Lim (@DionLimTV) January 8, 2024
Multiple sources tell me SF and San Diego are the two cities vying for a giant panda from China. However, they believe SF has the edge given the city hosted APEC.
The mayor's press office confirms Mayor Breed has been speaking to the… pic.twitter.com/HmWumU9WU9
But now the fur may really fly, as KGO reports that San Francisco is on the shortlist to get that giant panda. KGO reports that Mayor London Breed has been lobbying hard for the SF Zoo as the panda’s destination, and they obtained a December 1, 2023 letter from Breed to Xi saying that she hoped to "grow our friendship to greatly benefit our youth and to continue our joint efforts on panda conservation."
Per the KGO video report above, the panda-lending arrangement would be “a partnership with the San Francisco Zoo.” That outlet also reports Breed personally requested the panda from Xi on the tarmac when he left SFO. The San Diego Zoo is also reportedly being considered as a panda destination.
Breed’s office denies none of this. “Seizing every opportunity to make San Francisco shine has always been one of Mayor Breed's top priorities,” her office said in a statement to KGO. “The Mayor began speaking to the Chinese government to advocate for this valuable opportunity for months prior to APEC. She also utilized every interaction with representatives from the Chinese government during APEC to discuss the matter further, leading to her direct ask to President Xi Jinping as she was bidding him farewell on the SFO tarmac."
Of course, it was right before APEC when China pulled its pandas back from the Washington National Zoo. Relations have not been good between the U.S. and China in recent years — between Trump and that spy balloon situation — leading to China similarly reclaiming its pandas from the San Diego Zoo (2019) the Memphis Zoo (2023). The only current remaining pandas in the U.S are at the Atlanta Zoo, and those pandas are contractually bound to be returned to China later this year.
The San Francisco Zoo last saw a brief visit by a pair of pandas, Yun Yun and Ying Xin, for three months in 1984 — the bears made a stop here after being brought for a visit to Los Angeles to coincide with the Olympics that year. As the SF Standard notes, the previous time SF had seen a live panda was in 1936, when socialite Ruth Harkness and her husband apparently kidnapped a three-month-old cub on the Tibet-Sichuan border and brought it back here.
Image: Sid Balachandran via Unsplash