Sept. 30, 2007 — -- For decades China has given or loaned highly endangered pandas to foreign countries as goodwill gestures, but now the Chinese quietly have ended the tradition.
Even though the panda population is larger than what it was in the 1970s, the Chinese government is more protective than ever of its national treasure.
Now, zoos are paying a hefty price to borrow the cuddly creatures. The giant panda has become a cash cow for the Chinese government.
China now offers 10-year giant panda loans to zoos that meet certain standards and can contribute to panda research. Zoos in the United States have paid as much as $1 million annually for the adorable attractions.
In places like the Wolong Giant Panda Reserve, in the mountains of Sichuan Province, where they are experiencing a baby boom, the increased restrictions on panda sharing mean extra dollars.
More than a dozen panda cubs have been born at the sanctuary this year. The newest is only a week old.
Some have accused the Chinese of pandering to profit. But Wolong Giant Panda Reserve's director, Zhang Hemin, said all the money it receives goes toward conversation of the endangered animal.
Hemin said the pandas serve as a representation of nature.
"All people like the pandas," Hemin said. "So I think the pandas are representatives of environmental conservation."