- The Washington Times - Friday, December 4, 2009

UPDATED:

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is returning beloved giant panda Tai Shan to China.

Zoo officials said Friday that Tai Shan will go in January or February for breeding.

The cuddly, black-and-white panda was born at the Washington zoo July 9, 2005, and was supposed to go to China after two years, according to an original agreement. The Chinese government granted some extensions but they will soon expire, zoo spokeswoman Dorothy Black said Friday.

Zoo officials have scheduled a news conference for 10 a.m. EST to provide more details.

Tai Shan’s birth was international news, and the cub instantly became one of the zoo’s most popular attractions, drawing millions of visitors. Millions more watched him on a zoo Web cam — eating bamboo shoots, climbing trees or just napping in the sun.

The cub was fondly named “butter stick” by many of his adoring fans because at birth he was no bigger than a stick of butter. His birthday parties continue to be a popular attraction at the zoo.

His parents — mother Mei Xiang and father Tian Tian — are on a 10-year, $10 million loan to the zoo until 2010.

Three other U.S. zoos also have giant pandas — Atlanta, Memphis and in San Diego, Atlanta and Memphis.

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