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Washington National Zoo gets $4.5 million gift for panda program

By Leigh Goessl     Dec 19, 2011 in Science
Washington - Today the National Zoo, located in Washington D.C., announced they received a $4.5 million gift to help fund its giant panda reproduction program for an additional five years.
A philanthropist, by the name of David M. Rubenstein, arrived to visit the pandas with Zhang Yesui, China's ambassador to the U.S., to announce the substantial monetary gift.
Rubenstein stated the money was a "holiday gift" to the people of Washington and the rest of the country, saying "pandas make people happy," the Associated Press (via Yahoo! News) reported.
And they do. The panda exhibit is a very popular one at the Washington-based zoo. At any given time, crowds can be expected visiting the exhibit watching the giant pandas eat, sleep and play.
"There are probably 10 million species on the face of the earth, and I doubt that any one of those species is more popular and more beloved than the giant panda," Rubenstein said at a news conference by the zoo's giant panda yard.
"Hopefully this will result in more pandas being born here," he said.
Rubenstein is a co-founder and managing director of a private equity firm called The Carlyle Group. He also a member of the board of regents at the Smithsonian Institute. The National Zoo is included with a number of museums under the care of the Smithsonian Institute.
According to reports, the Zoo said the new habitat will be named after Rubenstein. In addition, this money will help fund fellowships for U.S. and China-based biologists to work to save the pandas, which are listed as an endangered species.
Breeding has been a challenge at the National Zoo. Both the U.S. and China have been actively working together to produce cub pandas, but only one has been born in the last 10 years. Currently the U.S. and China have a new agreement that allows the two current panda residents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, to remain in Washington; the allocated time is for five-years, and is a $2.5 million agreement.
Ambassador Zhang Yesui said, "I'm very happy to see they're in good shape and they were enjoying their breakfast," he said. "I actually sent my Christmas and New Year's greetings to them, and I also told them that their son Tai Shan is doing very well in Sichuan, China."
The Washington Post reported 2012 is probably the last year for Mei Xiang, 12, and Tian Tian, 13, to achieve a pregnancy.
Zoo Director Dennis W. Kelly described Rubenstein's gift as “an extraordinary act of generosity,” reported the Washington Post.
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