UPS not shipping pandas ... or whale sharks

The latest example in the philanthropic shift: Rival FedEx will be taking the 3-year-old Atlanta panda Mei Lan back to China next week, a decade after UPS imported her parents to Zoo Atlanta.

For years, UPS has shipped precious cargo for groups like Zoo Atlanta, the High Museum and the Georgia Aquarium. Company spokesman Norman Black said that over time, UPS donations to Zoo Atlanta have tallied $3 million.

But Black said the UPS Foundation decided last year to focus instead on disaster relief.

"Broadly, UPS is not going to support in-kind shipping for these types of cultural organizations," said Black of the Sandy Springs-based shipper. "We are tremendously involved in the Haiti response."

Of course, he said, there could be exceptions.

FedEx spokeswoman Denise Lauer said the Memphis-based shipper has transported giant pandas before. This shipment of Mei Lan is donated, though she wouldn't disclose the cost. Next Thursday, FedEx will outfit a Boeing 777F cargo plane with custom Plexiglas carriers. The plane will fly from Memphis to Atlanta to pick up Mei Lan, then fly to Washington to load up Tai Shan, a giant panda cub born there, for the 14 ½ hour flight to Chengdu. The bears, though born in the United States, are returning to China as part of a giant panda loan program.

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