In order to spread awareness and engage a larger audience in saving the Giant Panda, China has developed a leasing program that allows zoos around the world to house a pair of Giant Pandas for up to 10 years. After the initial 10 years, the zoo may negotiate a new contract with China. Several zoos have captive Giant Panda breeding programs and have been instrumental in Giant Panda research. When a cub is born outside China, the contract with China states that the cub must return to China when they are approximately two years of age. The cubs are returned to the Panda Center that originally housed their parents.
The successful breeding of the Giant Panda outside of China was achieved by the San Diego Zoo in 1999. A female cub, Hua Mei, was the first Giant Panda born in captivity in the United States and the Western hemisphere. She was returned to the Wolong Panda Center in 2004. Since returning to China and entering the breeding program, she has proven to be an excellent mother like her mother, Bai Yun. Hua Mei has delivered eight cubs which have all survived (Twins in 2004, Twins in 2005, Twins in 2007, and two single births in 2009 and 2010). Following the May 2008 earthquake, she was moved to the Bifengxia Panda Center and delivered a single cub in July of 2009.
Another cub, Mei Sheng, born to Bai Yun in 2003 at the San Diego Zoo returned to the Bifengxia Panda Center in 2007. His adjustment to living in China went smoothly and he successfully mated with Ying Ying.
The most recent US born Giant Pandas to return to China are Tai Shan and Mei Lan. Tai Shan, born in 2005, was the first cub to survive at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Mei Lan was born in 2006 at Zoo Atlanta.
After spending an extra two years in the US due to the earthquake in China in 2008, Tai Shan returned to Bifengxia in 2010.All reports state that he has adapted very well to the land of his ancestors. When Tai Shan reaches maturity, he will join the breeding program.
Mei Lan, the first cub born to the Zoo Atlanta pair, Lun Lun and Yang Yang, was returned to the Chengdu Panda Base in 2010. Mei Lan experienced some difficulties feeling comfortable in her new home but with the Chinese panda caretaker and her keeper from Zoo Atlanta working together, she left quarantine well adapted to her new surroundings.
Another Giant Panda that returned to Bifengxia in 2009 was Fu Long or “Happy Dragon.” Fu Long was born at the Schonbrunn Zoo, Vienna, Austria, to great fanfare as he was the first Giant Panda born in Europe in over 25 years. The mated pair in Vienna, Yang Yang and Long Hui, have been on loan from China since 2003. Since Fu Long’s return to Bifengxia, he has moved in with Wu Jun on Leopard Mountain and made a great adjustment to life in China. When he reaches reproductive age, he will join the breeding program.