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Another rare animal is about to become a global traveler. Tai Shan, the panda who has captivated visitors at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. since his birth in 2005. He goes to China early next year. Tai Shan's move to panda's native habitat is part of a loan agreement the zoo has with China. The pandas there were loaned from China in the first place - the parent pandas.

So, we called a man who has been involved with negotiations to bring pandas from China to American zoos.

Mr. DAVID TOWNE (Chairman, Giant Panda Conservation Foundation): My name is David Towne and my formal title is Chairman of the Giant Panda Conservation Foundation, which is made up of zoos, mostly, in North America, that either have or are interested in supporting a panda loan program.

INSKEEP: Okay. I need you to explain something, because you describe them as panda loans. Are the pandas borrowed or rented?

Mr. TOWNE: They're, in essence, rented. The agreements on all four zoos who have pandas calls for about a million dollars a year to be paid to China.

INSKEEP: You go over, you negotiate a loan - it's really a rental. You pay a million dollars. Tell me what each side gets out of this in the end.

Mr. TOWNE: The Chinese central government has to approve any panda loan. What we get out of it, of course, is the satisfaction of being able to display pandas here and hopefully breed them. What the Chinese get out of it is money. You know, there's been something like, what, 20 - 30 million dollars that has gone to China that has really been beneficial to enhancing their program.

INSKEEP: What happens to those pandas when they're returned?

Mr. TOWNE: Oh, they put them in the breeding program. In most cases, it's the breeding centers that are located in the reserves.

INSKEEP: So, Tai Shan will go back, most likely, and be in part of some breeding program?

Mr. TOWNE: Correct.

INSKEEP: And might any of Tai Shan's offspring end up back in the wild in China?

Mr. TOWNE: That's kind of a mutual goal that China and we have.

INSKEEP: You know, I suppose we should remember that the first two pandas - if I'm not mistaken - that were sent to the United States as outright gifts were given to President Richard Nixon when he traveled to China in 1972, part of reopening relations with...

Mr. TOWNE: Yes, that is correct.

INSKEEP: ...communist China. I wonder if you look at it through the lens of the way the panda relationship has developed here, how has the relation between the two countries changed?

Mr. TOWNE: China's a whole different country than it was when Nixon and Kissinger opened the door, so to speak. So, they are relatively wealthy, they don't really need us to tell them what to do anymore. So, they're feeling that pressure of being more dominant in the world scene. And that pays off, as we talk about, in the loan of pandas or other activities.

INSKEEP: Dave Towne, thanks very much.

Mr. TOWNE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He's chairman of the Giant Panda Conservation Foundation.

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