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2 pandas coming to D.C. zoo

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Zoo received an import permit Tuesday from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to bring two giant pandas into the United States from China, replacing two other pandas from China that died.

The pandas are to arrive Dec. 6 after a 17-hour flight on an MD-11 jet from Chengdu, China to Washington Dulles International Airport.

"The arrival of the pandas here marks the beginning of a new effort on the part of the National Zoo via collaboration with several other organizations to help conserve the wild giant panda," said Lucy Spelman, the zoo's director and chief veterinarian.

The bears' arrival is part of a 10-year, $10 million arrangement between the zoo and the Chinese government. The money will go to China for conservation projects. Any cub born at the zoo also would become Chinese property. The bears will be sheltered in a panda house renovated at a cost of $2 million.

The bears will be on loan from China for 10 years, after which the lease can be renewed or the pandas returned to China.

Upon arrival, Mei Xiang, a 2 1/2-year-old female, and Tian Tian, a 3 1/2-year-old male will be quarantined from the public for 30 days to give them time to adjust to their new home. During this period they will be permitted outdoors, but a high barrier will surround their enclosure.

There will be an official exhibit opening ceremony for the two when the barrier is removed in January.

The zoo's last surviving giant panda died last November. Hsing-Hsing was euthanized because of a deteriorating kidney disease. His female partner, Ling-Ling, died in 1992 of heart failure. China gave the two to the United States in 1972.

"Those first pandas were on a diplomatic mission, to bridge the gap between people living half way around the globe," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Now these pandas will again find a home here but this time not as diplomatic ambassadors but as conservation ambassadors."