While China’s busy being pissed off at the United States, maybe now’s the best opportunity to talk about something, well, cuter and cuddlier between the two nations. See, the United States is about to change direction and make a rare export to China – namely, two giant pandas. Mei Lan, born in Atlanta in 2006 and Tai Shan, born in Washington, D.C. in 2005, are currently aboard a Boeing 777 freighter from Washington, D.C. to Beijing.
Dubbed the “FedEx Panda Express,” several veterinarians are on board during the 14-hour flight to ensure all the pandas’ needs are met.
This is hardly the first time our harlequin bear friends were used to smooth relations between nations. “Panda diplomacy” began in the 7th century AD, when Empress Wu Zeitan sent two to the emperor of Japan.
The practice was revived under Chairman Mao in 1958, and the United States received its first pandas in 1972, after Richard Nixon’s landmark visit. The pair, named Ling-Ling and Tsing-Tsing, became greatly beloved fixtures of Washington D.C.;s National Zoo, which received outpourings of sympathy when the pandas passed away in 1992 and 1999, respectively. It’s important to note that even if pandas die stateside, they are constitutionally the property of China.
Atlanta’s “Person of the Year” in 2006, Mei Lan was born to great acclaim and became an instant celebrity – her naming contest broke the zoo’s contest participation records. Tai Shan made news in 2005 when he survived past five days, which doesn’t seem long until you find out none of Ling-Ling and Tsing-Tsing’s offspring made it that far. Now the young pandas are leaving – Mei Lan is going to a “panda base” in Chengdu and Tai Shan to Ya’an in Sichuan province – and the American public is saddened by news of their departure.
Tai Shan’s zookeeper has been quoted as saying that Americans are “too emotional” about the giant panda, whose fame and notoriety will disappear when he arrives in Sichuan sometime tomorrow. He’ll be one of about 150 male pandas at a breeding center there – and once he adjusts to the conditions, including, surprisingly, the new language – he’ll be expected to help in China’s effort to increase the population of the extremely endangered panda, of which there are estimated to be just 1,600 remaining in the wild.
Let’s hope that Tai Shan gets to work making babies so China can send more pandas to the States once they’re maybe a little less angry!