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Posted at 8:30 AM ET, 12/ 4/2009

Giving back the panda is a good lesson

By Valerie Strauss

Let’s look at it this way: Returning Tai Shan the panda to China--as we promised--will be an excellent way to teach kids the principle of borrowing.

Loving it and even venerating it (the fan club, the tatoos, the stamp, the inexplicable statement by Mayor Adrian Fenty that Tai Shan is the most important citizen in the U.S. capital) doesn’t change the terms of the loan agreement we made with China in which his parents came to the United States: We would give him back.


Let’s not forget that China has already allowed the 4-year-old panda to stay here for an extra two years, for free, already. The animal, which was born here, was supposed to go back at age 2 but was allowed to stay two more years.

It’s not at all a bad thing that kids--and adults--remember that promises are promises and contracts are too, even though people and countries like to break them at will.

The panda agreement with China has been one of the world’s most successful cultural exchanges.

We may not have learned a whole lot about the Chinese, but we have come to know a lot about pandas. Here are some facts taken from the National Zoo’s website, and you can go there to find more:

1) Pandas are members of the bear family, though once scientists thought they were more like raccoons.

2) Pandas are endangered. They live in a few mountain ranges in central China and there are only about 1,600 left in the world. More than 160 live in zoos and breeding centers, mostly in China.

3) No, they are not cuddly. They have strong teeth and are as dangerous as any other bear.

4) They aren’t especially social either. Adult giant pandas are generally solitary, but sometimes communicate through scent marks, calls, and occasional meetings.

5) Offspring stay with their mothers from 1 to 3 1/2 years, at least the newborns that the mother has decided to keep. Often more than one panda is born at a time but the mother chooses only one to keep and allows the other to die.

6) Babies are the size of a stick of butter, weighing 3 to 6 ounces, which is why some panda moms accidentally kill their babies.

7) Giant pandas are between 2 and 3 feet tall at the shoulder (on all four legs), and reach 4 to 6 feet long. Males are larger than females, weighing up to 250 pounds in the wild. Females rarely reach 220 pounds.

8) They eat mostly bamboo in the wild but at the National Zoo, trainers have beefed up their diets with foods including biscuits, carrots, sweet potatoes and apples because bamboo contains few nutrients. The pandas get more than 50 pounds of the stuff a day.

By Valerie Strauss  | December 4, 2009; 8:30 AM ET
Tags:  National zoo, pandas  
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Comments

The departure of Tai Shan is one of the saddest events possible in Washington, a terrible way to start the New Year. We need to give him a memorable send-off.

Posted by: axolotl | December 4, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

The departure of Tai Shan is one of the saddest events possible in Washington, a terrible way to start the New Year. We need to give him a memorable send-off.

Posted by: axolotl | December 4, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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