Mexico’s Xin Xin could be the last panda in Latin America

By Fabiola Sanchez Associated Press

MEXICO CITY – Xin Xin, the last panda in Latin America, is not your average bear. Originally from Mexico, he is the only remaining member of the diaspora of Chinese giant pandas that were given to foreign countries during the 1970s and 1980s.

Mexico’s Chapultepec Zoo is the only two zoos that have pandas without direct supervision from the Chinese government. That era will soon come to an end after more than 50 years because Xin Xin, the panda’s granddaughter that China gave her, is childless, in menopause and, at 32, very old.

It could be the end of pandas in Latin America altogether if the Mexican government cancels the price of new pandas.

Xin Xin is the second generation of Mexican-born pandas, tracing his lineage to Pe Pe and Ying Ying, who arrived at the zoo in 1975. They were part of the first “panda diplomacy” of China, a time when charismatic animals were gifted to. countries around the world. In 1984, China ended the panda gift, moving to a policy of high-value loans.

This history makes Mexico one of the few countries that can keep panda cubs born locally. Since 1985, the loan program has required that zoos return any cubs to China.

After Shuan Shuan’s death, Mexican officials began talking to the Chinese ambassador. China is currently leasing giant pandas for between 10 and 15 years at a cost of $1 million annually, which is intended to support panda conservation in China.

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The strict administration of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador does not seem to agree with this price. “Other rules will definitely have to be found, but it will depend a lot on the will and needs of the two countries,” said Fernando Gual, director of the Mexico City Zoos and Wildlife Conservation.

Xin Xin’s own interests are lower to earth. He spent time relaxing in the hammock and paddling quietly around his enclosure looking for bamboo. Sometimes, the trainer also hides his favorite treat, a red apple.

Looking at Xin Xin, Gual smiled as she recalled the morning of July 1, 1990 when her mother Tohui surprised everyone at the zoo by giving birth to the four-ounce Xin Xin, away from the cameras that recorded her movements 24 hours a day.

“It is impossible not to have an attachment to this animal,” said Gual. “We see most of them were born here.” Tohui is the second panda ever born outside of China, and the first to survive as a baby, living to age 12. Pop star Yuri released a song expressing the city’s pride and excitement.

The life expectancy of a giant panda in the wild is about 15 years, but in captivity they have lived as old as 38. Decades of conservation efforts in the wild and studies in captivity saved the giant panda from extinction, increasing its population from less than 1,000 in one time to more than 1,800 now in the wild and in captivity.

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Mexico’s remarkable success makes it one of only two zoos operating panda programs outside of Chinese government control, according to the Congressional Research Service. The other is in Taiwan, which received two pandas in 2008 in exchange for a pair of endangered sika deer.

Eight pandas have been born in Mexico, five of which survived to adulthood. Decades of study at the Chapultepec Zoo has yielded extensive knowledge, as well as genetic material – cryogenically preserved sperm and maternal tissue – that scientists here hope will allow them to continue helping in the conservation of pandas’ even though Xin Xin has disappeared.

Carlos Cerda Dueñas, a researcher at the Monterrey Institute of Technology who has studied panda diplomacy, said Mexico’s strategic importance could encourage China to make a deal, but López Obrador’s penchant for austerity could make a deal “very difficult.”

China’s new panda loan was temporarily suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, but President Xi Jinping’s government recently revived it, sending a pair of pandas to World Cup host Qatar.

China is Mexico’s second most important trading partner, after the United States, and the Chinese government has been working to expand its influence in Latin America. The possibility of leaving the area without pandas could have implications for Mexico.

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What is not in doubt is the power of the panda image.

At the Chapultepec Zoo there is a panda museum that displays photographs of the animals over the years, plaster casts of their footprints, panda hair clippings and dozens of children’s drawings. Shuan Shuan’s last birthday piñata is also there.

But Xin Xin is the real attraction. He had a birthday piñata, shaped like a panda and filled with apples and carrots, on July 1.

In recent days, Juan Vicente Araya Costa Rica marveled at Xin Xin, together with his family.

“When we decided to travel to Mexico, from the oldest to the youngest, everyone in the house came with the dream of being able to see pandas,” Araya said, patting the head of her son, who was playing with pandas. panda doll his parents bought him in the visit.

Araya, who works for a US company, said the first thing her family and friends did after arriving in Mexico City from Costa Rica was go to the zoo to see Xin Xin.

“In Latin America we don’t have many opportunities to see pandas,” he said. “Luckily it was worth it for us to come from Costa Rica. We were very happy to meet him.

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