Giant Pandas are endemic to China, and that country owns all the Giant Pandas throughout the world. A zoo in another country can get a panda on loan from China, but they have to pay a hefty price and agree to give the panda back.
Things started in the 1950s when China began gifting Giant Pandas to other countries. President Nixon was gifted two pandas in 1972 as a show of thanks after visiting China. Other countries followed suit and began asking to be gifted pandas.
In 1984, China abandoned giving pandas as gifts and began to loan them out instead. China started loaning the Giant Pandas for an annual fee of $500,000 to $1 million per panda, and the zoo could have the panda for ten years before it would have to be returned to China. This process became known as “Panda Diplomacy,” or China’s way of using the pandas to soften its global image.
There are approximately 1,600 Giant Pandas worldwide, and only 350 live in zoos and other centers. Of these 350, about 50 pandas are in countries other than China. When a panda cub is born in another country, the zoo where it is born has usually been charged a one-time fee of $400,000. According to a set contract, the panda is sent back to China after a certain number of years.
Giant Pandas have benefited from the loan program and have received quality breeding and study around the world. Zoos have profited from increased traffic from people wanting to see the pandas, which offsets the high cost of caring for the pandas.
Sources: Harvard Law School, New York Times, University of Oxford, Global Times