File under Super-Fauna Drama:
Tai Shan, aka “Butterstick,” for those who do not live in the Washington D.C. area, is a cute panda bear. Really cute. (See pictures here.) Born about four years ago at the National Zoo, he is the property of the People’s Republic of China. And Panda diplomacy, it seems, has its limits. The zoo explains:
The Chinese have granted extensions to the National Zoo that allowed Tai Shan to stay past his second birthday, but those extensions will soon expire. . . . Tai Shan will be trained to enter and calmly remain in a specially designed crate for his flight to China. Logistics and details for his safe transport are being finalized. It is expected that Tai Shan will enter the breeding program in China, where he will contribute to species conservation.
Tai Shan’s parents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, will not be traveling on the same crate.
Mei Xiang and Tian Tian also belong to China and are on a ten-year loan as part of a research, conservation and breeding program. This agreement expires in December 2010. National Zoo and Chinese officials will not begin negotiations about their future until spring 2010.
In case you were wondering, there are something in the neighborhood of 1,600 giant pandas still living in the wild.