The Eldest Panda in San Diego Returns to China
The eldest of three giant pandas at San Diego Zoo, Gao Gao left on Tuesday morning to return to China, where he was born.
The departure concludes a long-term loan from China to the zoo. By all accounts, it was a highly successful one. Along with matriarch Bai Yun, he produced five cubs, the youngest of which, Xiao Liwu, remains behind with his mother.
Gao Gao’s departure was kept under wraps for safety reasons, the zoo said. It was so secretive that the zoo would not disclose what time he left, or the mode of transport or route.
The tight security matched Gao Gao’s status. Pandas are Chinese cultural icons as well as a rare species. For conservation purposes and international diplomacy, their safety comes above all other considerations.
Transporting such a prized diplomatic cargo thousands of miles requires intense logistical planning, including training Gao Gao to accept confinement in a crate and to ignore the loud sounds around him.
Gao Gao is travelling with an experienced keeper and a veterinary surgeon who have looked after him for years.
Both the zoo and the Chinese government have been carefully planning for this day for some time, said Carmi Penny, the zoo’s director of collections husbandry science.
Since China only loans pandas, it is expected from the day of their arrival that they will one day return. This includes pandas born elsewhere under a loan agreement: all are the property of China.
Once in China, Gao Gao will first go through quarantine, then be admitted to the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda, Penny said. It is in Dujiangyan, located in central China.
Pandas there are housed in individual enclosed areas, with access to large outside spaces, Penny said.
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