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Baby Pandas and the Law: In Memory of Mei Xiang’s Cub

The following is a guest post by Laney Zhang, foreign law specialist at the Law Library of Congress.  Laney has previously written guest posts for In Custodia Legis on Trains and Corruption in China and on pictures of China’s Supreme Court as it was in 1913.  We have also published a picture of a map in her office, and Hanibal wrote a post about her lunchtime talk on China’s “one child policy.”

It was a dramatic week for panda lovers in Washington, D.C.: we were thrilled when Mei Xiang gave birth to a baby panda last Sunday night, and were then heartbroken for her loss this past Sunday, September 23, 2012.

I started drafting this post on the laws and agreements that would affect the baby panda’s childhood soon after its birth.  If she had lived, the cub would have stayed with us here in Washington until she was four years old, if no extension was made to this time, according to the Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement signed by the National Zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association in 2011.  As we know, her elder brother, Tai Shan, was sent to China in early 2010 per the terms of the former agreement.

Currently, giant pandas may be taken out of China only through such collaborative research agreements, which state that both the parents and any offspring remain under the ownership of China.  China used to send giant pandas overseas as diplomatic gifts (a practice sometimes referred to as “panda diplomacy“); when Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing arrived at the National Zoo in 1972, they were gifts from the Chinese government.  The government has officially announced that it has stopped this practice in an effort to protect this endangered species.  China joined the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1981, which came into effect in China on April 8 that year.

The baby pandas born overseas may have a lonely childhood (perhaps similar to those of single children in many Chinese families following the implementation of the “one child policy“).  When a panda is returned to China at age four or older, it won’t be able to have much fun playing with other pandas in their tot lots.  There is an adult’s task waiting for them: reproduction.  According to a news report posted by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in late 2011, former overseas returnee Tai Shan was scheduled to join the breeding team in 2012.

At this moment of mourning the loss of Washington’s baby panda, I’d like to share some stills from a video that I shot of the Expo Pandas playing in the Shanghai Zoo in January 2010.  Before seeing this I thought that pandas were naturally solitary animals that always stay alone.  These ten are the most energetic pandas I’ve ever seen!  They are all about a year and a half old — by that age they apparently have not become bored with their zoo lives.  They were sent to Shanghai for a year-long exhibition for the Shanghai Expo.

Interestingly, later in July 2011, China’s State Forestry Administration issued a set of rules on lending giant pandas for exhibitions within the country, specifically prohibiting the lending of baby pandas under age two and seniors over the age of 25 for exhibition purposes.

We hope to see many more pandas playing happily together in the future.

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