Could giant pandas return to DC’s National Zoo?

Several months after D.C.'s giant pandas departed the Smithsonian's National Zoo and returned to China, there is hope that the iconic bears could return to the nation’s capital.

A report from the Associated Press on Thursday says China is renewing its gesture of friendship with the U.S. by planning to send a new pair of giant pandas to San Diego. The China Wildlife Conservation Association has signed a cooperation agreement with the San Diego Zoo. Officials told The Associated Press that if all permits and other requirements are approved, two bears, a male and a female, are expected to arrive as early as the end of summer.

READ MORE: Giant pandas land safely in China marking end of an era in DC

DC’s giant pandas

The report also says that the group is in talks with Washington, D.C.’s zoo.

The National Zoo’s three giant pandas, Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and their cub Xiao Qi Ji left behind an empty panda exhibit in November of last year. 

Their exit, that happened ahead of schedule, came amid speculation that Beijing was gradually pulling its pandas from Western nations due to deteriorating diplomatic relations with the U.S. and other countries. Demands for their return also grew among the Chinese public as unproven allegations that U.S. zoos mistreated the pandas flooded Chinese social media.

READ MORE: Disappointment, tears at National Zoo after giant pandas leave for China

Their departure from D.C. meant that the only giant pandas left in America are at the Atlanta Zoo. That loan agreement expires in late 2024.

Last November, about a week after the National Zoo's pandas departed for China, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke at a dinner in downtown San Francisco with American business executives and signaled that more pandas might be sent back to the U.S.

"I was told that many American people, especially children, were really reluctant to say goodbye to the pandas and went to the zoo to see them off," Xi said.