Pandas are native to China. Today, the country owns all living pandas. That’s because they’re extremely hard to breed (they simply won’t do it on their own) and any panda born outside the country becomes immediate property of China. However, the country does lease their pandas to zoos around the world in an act called panda diplomacy.
How did panda diplomacy come to be?
Between 1941 and 1984, China occasionally gifted pandas to other countries. But they stopped doing this and claimed ownership of the animals instead. Now, all pandas outside of China are technically leased (often for a decade) by the country.
Panda diplomacy is the act of gifting or leasing pandas as a gesture of goodwill.
The first panda “diplomat” came about after fashion designer Ruth Harkness took two pandas out of China and sold them to Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo and Baptist minister David Crockett Graham took and sold two to the Bronx Zoo. After that Madame Chiang Kai-shek, first lady of China and a diplomat in her own right, arranged for two more pandas to be sent to the San Diego Zoo.
However, the first act of panda diplomacy ended up buried in the news cycle since it happened during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Between 1957 and 1983, China gifted 24 pandas to 9 nations as diplomatic gestures of friendship. And when Richard Nixon visited China in 1972, he secured two more pandas from Mao Zedong for The National Zoo in Washington DC. In the first year they were on display over 1 million people came to visit the animals.
Countries around the world clamored for a chance to host the animals. But as they become more endangered, China stopped giving them away and began leasing them. In 1984, China’s leader (Deng Xiaoping) leased the first pandas to Los Angeles for the 1984 Olympics. The cost was $50,000 a month.
In 1991, the country moved to long term leases of a decade and the cost is up to $1 million a year and a promise that any cubs born will be returned to China along with their parents. — WTF fun facts
Source: “Panda diplomacy” – Wikipedia