Are the Pandas Going Back to China?

Pandas on loan from China could soon return home.

ByABC News via logo
May 22, 2009, 9:32 AM

May 22, 2009— -- Is it the end of the road for the giant pandas at Washington, D.C.,'s National Zoo?

Mei Xiang, and her partner Tian Tian, have been fixtures at the zoo since they arrived from China in 2000, and became one of the most popular zoo attractions in history.

The pair gave birth to their only offspring, Tai Shan, in 2005, creating pure panda-monium.

T-shirts, toys and a 24/7 panda cam popped up to celebrate the arrival of the baby panda bear. Millions of fans came to the zoo to check out the family.

But Tai Shan, and his parents, could soon be shipped back to China.

The Chinese government loaned the cuddly creatures for 10 years for $10 million. And the lease will run out next year.

Zoo officials are trying to negotiate an extension. But the talks are so delicate, they declined to speak to, adding to the mystery of the fate of the pandas.

There are only 1,600 pandas in the world and just 160 live in captivity.

In the entire country, only four zoos have pandas. But they're so popular that 80 percent of the visitors who visit the National Zoo don't leave without stopping to take a peek at Tai Shan and his parents.

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are the zoo's second pair of giant pandas. Both were born at the China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong, Sichuan Province.

Mei Xiang's name translates to "beautiful fragrance," Tai Shan means, "more and more."

As part of the zoo's agreement with China, any panda born at the zoo would belong to China and would be returned to its home country so that it could become part of the breeding population there.

At birth, the cub weighed 1.82 pounds and was 12 inches in length. As of March, Tai Shan was 187 pounds.

After his birth, more than 200,000 votes were cast to name the cub. Tai Shan ( "peaceful mountain") was chosen and announced when he was 100 days old.

Earlier this week, the zoo announced that its latest pregnancy watch had ended in disappointment.

On Wednesday, the zoo said Mei Xiang is not expecting.