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Friday, June 14, 2024

Everland in discussions with China for panda’s return

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Fu Bao, a three-year-old giant panda, leans on a block of ice at Everland's Panda World in Yongin, Gyeonggi, on Thursday. [CHOI GI-UNG]
Fu Bao, a three-year-old giant panda, leans on a block of ice at Everland’s Panda World in Yongin, Gyeonggi, on Thursday. [CHOI GI-UNG]

Everland, a theme park in Yongin, Gyeonggi, is in discussions with its Chinese counterparts to return Fu Bao the giant panda to the country.

Jung Dong-hee, head of the Everland Zoo, said that “the agreement with China states that giant panda [Fu Bao]will return to China before ‘the age of four’,” during a press briefing held at Everland’s Panda World on Thursday.

“We started discussing Fu Bao’s return with China last month, when Fu Bao turned three, but haven’t received a detailed answer yet,” Jung said.

Fu Bao, the first giant panda born in Korea through natural breeding, was born on July 20, 2020, in the Panda World at Everland.

Everland’s counterparts for the arrangement include the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) and the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, also known as Dujiangyan Panda Ark, which is working with Everland to research pandas.

“For the date of departure, Le Bao and Ai Bao previously came to Korea in March,” Jung said.

“Since the months between May and July can be quite hot, we tentatively expect the date of the departure will fall between February and April.”

Panda keeper Kang Chul-won, widely known as “Fu Bao’s granddad,” also attended the press briefing Thursday.

“I already knew from the very beginning when I met Fu Bao that we would need to say farewell at some point, and I also believe that it will be best for Fu Bao to return to China, so I am not too sad about saying goodbye,” Kang said.

“Even after we send Fu Bao back to China, we will never forget her,” the zookeeper added.

Ai Bao and Le Bao, Fu Bao’s parents, are on a 15-year contract that expires in March 2031 but could stay longer under an extension clause.

All giant pandas around the world are owned by the Chinese government under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora signed in 1973 to regulate cross-border trades of endangered plants and animals. Giant pandas were included on the endangered species list in 1984.

The Baos, the only panda family in Korea, first arrived in the country in March 2016 when mom panda Ai Bao and dad panda Le Bao were leased in celebration of Everland’s 40th anniversary.

On July 7, twin giant panda cubs were born at Everland. The theme park began accepting proposals for the 49-day-old pandas’ names this week, which will be revealed in October.

BY SHIN HA-NEE [shin.hanee@joongang.co.kr]