Zoo Renaissance

September 4, 1987

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Munching bamboo in an air-conditioned glass cage, two giant pandas now visiting San Diego's famed zoo are drawing national attention to a renaissance at American zoological parks.

Like two other pandas currently displayed at New York City's Bronx Zoo, the pandas named Basi and Yuan Yuan have been lent to the San Diego Zoological Society by the People's Republic of China. The rare black-and-white bears boosted the San Diego Zoo's attendance this summer by 20,000 visitors a week over 1986 levels. As international symbols for the plight of threatened wildlife, the pandas demonstrated American big-city zoos emerging commitment to preserve wild species—not just for captive display, but to restore them to natural habitats.

Only a thousand pandas may be left, about 100 are in zoos, and the rest live wild in China's western mountains, where they are vulnerable to cyclical declines in bamboo forests that support them. The pandas' visit to San Diego and New York is underscoring what local zoos in the United States and other nations can contribute to saving the world's threatened wildlife. “For the first time in the history of zoos, they have a really significant role to play in terms of wildlife conservation,” says Dallas Zoo Director Warren Iliff, outgoing president of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums. “For the first time, zoos have a real reason for being, without it being just a rationalization.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Travel and Tourism
Wildlife and Endangered Species