When the National Zoo bids farewell to giant panda Tai Shan next month, it will mark the departure of one of the Washington zoo's most beloved animals. At Arent Fox, it will also mean saying goodbye to a client.
Anthony Lupo, a partner at Arent Fox who sits on the zoo's board of directors, said that the firm acts as outside counsel for the zoo on a pro bono basis and has been involved in discussions about Tai Shan’s return to China. China maintains ownership of all giant pandas. Tai Shan's last public viewing at the National Zoo will be on Feb. 4. Lupo said the panda is returning to China to enter a breeding program.
The 10-year contract that brought Tai Shan’s parents to the U.S. in 2000 allowed them to stay here for 10 years at a cost of $10 million. That contract, which expires this year, required any baby pandas born at the zoo to return to China at age 2. Tai Shan, who was born on July 9, 2005, was supposed to return to China in 2007 but was granted two extensions.
“The zoo probably could have negotiated for Tai Shan to stay [even longer]. China has been very gracious in negotiating the stay of Washington’s pandas,” Lupo said. “But pandas aren’t cheap.”
So far, Lupo said, the zoo is not in discussions to have a replacement for Tai Shan sent from China. Instead, the zoo is focusing on breeding a new panda cub.
“Panda babies are a godsend for any zoo,” Lupo said. The money they bring in is particularly helpful for a public zoo like the National Zoo, which can’t charge for entrance fees but can sell panda hats, t-shirts, key rings, etc.
“They bring in money through donations and sponsorships, which is extremely important to the zoo,” Lupo said. The National Zoo’s panda habitat is named the Fujifilm Giant Panda Habitat.
Besides the medical difficulties, the breeding of pandas can raise legal issues too. Lawyers get involved in negotiating over transporting panda sperm from other U.S. zoos, Lupo said.