For the first time in two decades, the San Diego Zoo is buzzing with excitement, welcoming a pair of pandas from the China Wildlife Conservation Association. This male and female duo is set to charm visitors and play a pivotal role in China’s efforts to bolster panda populations through breeding.

China’s strategy of sharing pandas with global zoos for research and conservation has a rich history, involving nations like the U.S., Spain, and Australia in a collective mission to pull the adored giant pandas back from the brink of extinction. The San Diego Zoo, renowned for its exemplary panda program, once hosted female panda Bai Yun, who, during her twenty-year stay, became a mother to six cubs. Intriguingly, one of her offspring might be among the pandas joining the zoo this year.

Pandas are notoriously difficult to breed because the mating cycle is extremely short, lasting only 48 to 72 hours per year. Bai Yun’s first cub, Hua Mei, was the first panda born through artificial insemination to survive into adulthood outside of China. This success is one reason China is particularly eager to send more pandas to the San Diego Zoo.

“We have a lot of institutional knowledge and capacity from our last cooperative agreement, which we will be able to parlay into this next chapter, as well as training the next generation of panda conservationists,” said Mary Owen of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and vice president of Wildlife Conservation Science.

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After decades of conservation efforts, including sending pandas to foreign zoos, China has effectively raised the giant panda population from under 1,000 to 1,800 in the wild and captivity. Giant pandas have a life expectancy of 15 years in the wild but have lived up to 38 years in captivity. The China Wildlife Conservation Association hopes to continue this promising progress by lending giant pandas to zoos like the San Diego Zoo that can conduct further research on disease prevention and habitat protection.

“We look forward to further expanding the research outcomes on the conservation of endangered species such as giant pandas, and promoting mutual understanding and friendship among peoples through the new round of international cooperation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said in Beijing.

Officials are not the only ones excited by the pandas’ journey to the United States. Longtime patrons of the San Diego Zoo, Cindy and Randy Rose, were thrilled that pandas would return to the zoo. “I’m so excited!” Cindy told the Associated Press. “We love the pandas, and it’s so great one will be related to the one that was here.” The couple brought their grandson to the zoo last week and could not wait to show him the pandas upon their arrival.

“It makes me feel good that this is one way to reduce tensions,” Randy said. “We have a lot of differences but we all love pandas. They’re fun to watch, munching on bamboo and climbing trees.”