Atlanta is now the only U.S. city with giant pandas

Pandas at National Zoo returned to China on Wednesday; Memphis panda went back in April

The Smithsonian National Zoo's giant pandas are headed back to China soon.Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, who arrived in 2000, and their cub, Xiao Qi Ji, will leave the United States at the end of the year.That leaves only one place in the U.S. to see giant pandas: Zoo Atlanta.Ya Lun and Xi Lun and their parents, Lun Lun and Yang Yang will be here at least through 2024.The Memphis Zoo had one giant panda, but it returned to China in April

Pandas have been a staple at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington for about 50 years, but their residency has come to an end.

That means Atlanta is now the only city in the United States where you can see the black-and-white behemoths.

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian were at the National Zoo since 2000 as part of a 10-year agreement with the China Wildlife and Conversation Association. That deadline had been extended a couple of times.

But that didn’t happen again. The pair and their cub, Xiao Qi Ji, were taken from the National Zoo in crates and left the U.S. at 1 p.m. Wednesday in a FedEx aircraft at Dulles International Airport, news outlets reported.

That leaves Zoo Atlanta as the only U.S. home to giant pandas — though that could change in 2024.

All four of the zoo’s giant pandas — Lun Lun, Yang Yang, Ya Lun and Xi Lun — are scheduled to head back to China late next year. But the zoo states on its website that no specific timeline has yet been agreed on with partners at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.

“We are working with our partners in China on the timing of all panda travels, so we do not yet have specific details on a timeframe in 2024,” the zoo said in a press release. “We expect to have significant advance notice in terms of timing, as the permitting process for sending animals abroad takes time.

“No discussions have yet taken place with our partners in China as to the status of Zoo Atlanta’s giant panda program beyond the end of the loan in 2024. Zoo Atlanta is committed to the long-term stewardship of giant pandas and to the continuation of its valued partnership with the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens.”

The twins’ brothers and sisters all made the trip home when they were old enough, but parents Lun Lun and Yang Yang have always stayed here. Their loan agreement is set to expire next year, but the zoo said it hopes to extend their stay.

San Diego and Memphis used to have giant pandas at their zoos, but the former’s agreement ended in 2019 and the latter returned their pandas to China in April.