China trade war raising concerns over zoo pandas

China trade war raising concerns over zoo pandas

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The trade war with China is now causing concerns over pandas.

Only four zoos in the United States have pandas, that includes the Memphis Zoo.

Le Le and Ya ya are two of the most popular animals at the Memphis Zoo.

“We're on a very small list of facilities that is able to house giant pandas,” said Matt Thompson, zoological officer.

The pandas actually belong to their native country in China.

Are Memphis' pandas at risk in trade war with China?

“We started off with a 10-year loan agreement with China, that was up in 2013, where we worked out another 10-year agreement so our current loan is through 2023,” said Thompson.

But could a heated political landscape bring them back to China sooner than planned?

"They do own the animals but they've shown no indication that they are going to do that. Even when things got heated in the past, pandas rose above that and everyone was able to work for the greater good,” said Thompson.

The loan program has been in place for more than 40 years, and has lasted through eras of political turmoil before.

“Politics and pandas is no new thing. So, pandas in the U.S. started with the Nixon administration and bringing pandas to the national zoo in the early 70s,” said Thompson.

Giant pandas can also be found in Atlanta and San Diego.

The next zoo to reach the end of their loan is the National Zoo in D.C. in 2020.

“We’ll see how that goes but we don’t expect that to affect us much now. We’re choosing to remain positive that we will have pandas here for many years,” said Thompson.

Since the agreement has been in place with China, giant pandas have gone from being highly endangered to listed as vulnerable.

"They have been down listed which is a huge step forward. Because there were so few pandas in the wild, zoos in the U.S. and in China were able to work together to reproduce pandas to expand their numbers,” said Thompson.

When the loan for Le Le and Ya ya is up in four years, Memphis Zoo leaders say the goal is to negotiate another extension.

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