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National Zoo confirms that Tai Shan will be sent to China

Giant panda's return to China will end a four-year love affair between a town ruled by political blood sport and a bamboo-munching black-and-white bear.

Tai Shan's parents, who arrived Dec. 6, 2000, are here on a $10 million 10-year loan. That arrangement expires next December, and the zoo hopes to start negotiations on an extension in the spring, Montfort said.

Both Montfort and Wang said they did not think that China would leave Washington utterly panda-less. "I believe that the Chinese side will continue to provide cooperation with their American counterparts," Wang said.

Montfort said: "I'm very optimistic that pandas will be at the National Zoo for as far as the eye can see."

He also said that, despite recent failures, the zoo probably will soon try once again to breed Mei Xiang, in the hopes of producing another cub. "We're hopeful every year," he said.

Bereft panda lovers, though, were still sad.

"It won't be the same," said Roxanne Sykes of Arlington County, who watched the proceedings in the zoo's panda compound from a nearby overlook and yelled, "We love you, Tai Shan!" with two other women.

"I just think he's our national treasure," she said. "He's been such a gift. . . . It's hard to hear the news. We've been expecting it. . . . He's probably the most famous panda in the world. He's just a superstar."

"We were all in denial," said Elise Ney, 49, of Bethesda. "We just didn't believe it would ever happen. . . . All of us have followed him since birth."

Montfort said: "We understand this is traumatic for a lot of people. We plan to have a number of special events here at the zoo really to honor Tai Shan's contribution. . . . He's of an iconic species. He provides hope for the future of pandas."

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