The Last Panda in Latin America?

Breeding pandas in captivity has never been an easy job, and in Latin America they have made a difficult decision.
The Last Panda in Latin America?
Sara González Juárez

Written and verified by the psychologist Sara González Juárez.

Last update: 14 February, 2023

Panda bears are probably one of the most famous examples of a country’s conservation efforts, in this case, China. However, the policy of this captive breeding program could be the key to Xin Xin being the last panda living in Latin America.

To know how we got to this point, you need to know the history of the pandas at Chapultepec Zoo. Here we’ll you about it, so that you can understand why this female panda could be the last one to live there.

Panda diplomacy

A panda bear.

There are currently 26 zoos in 21 different countries that have a panda on their grounds. This number coincides with the international program that China launched in the 1970s to recover the species, popularly known as panda diplomacy.

However, this wasn’t the first attempt to use pandas as a diplomatic gift. Before focusing on conservation per se, they were captured from the wild and given as gifts to other countries as gestures of goodwill or reconciliation, as in 1941, when Soong Mei-Lin (Madame Chiang) sent 2 pandas to the United States for display at the Bronx Zoo.

In the 1970s and 1980s this changed. In addition to diplomatic success, a captive breeding program was launched in which zoos would benefit from having a panda in their facilities in exchange for sending all offspring born to China. The goal was to prepare these pandas for reintroduction into the wild and save the species from extinction.

The change in policy and the Chapultepec Zoo

This diplomacy based on sending animals was modified in 1984, converting the gifts into rentals. Later, in 1991, a long-term leasing policy began, so that countries that had pandas in captivity could keep them and take advantage of the economic and diplomatic benefits of their presence in zoos.

In this way, all over the world they contributed to the conservation of the giant panda, while obtaining economic benefits.

In the case of Chapultepec Zoo, where Xin Xin currently lives, the Chinese supervision of the species is not effective. In addition, we have the situation that this panda hasn’t had any children in her entire life and has already reached menopause. Let’s see why she could be the last panda in Latin America.

Xin Xin, the last panda?

In Chapultepec, Mexico, we can observe Xin Xin, a second generation female giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). When we say second generation, we mean that she was born in captivity and grew to adulthood in the city zoo, without ever traveling to China for her release. Due to the panda leasing policy put in place in 1984, cubs of this species could stay if the country continued to pay the fee.

However, Xin Xin has not had any cubs in her entire life. She is 32 years old, a record considering the average life expectancy of these animals in the wild is about 2 decades. Therefore, in order for the Chapultepec Zoo to continue to house pandas, they would have to rent a new one.

The lineage of this panda goes back to the diplomatic gifts of 1974, with Pe Pe and Ying Ying. However, in view of this new circumstance, the Mexican government is considering not paying for new specimens. Therefore, Xin Xin could be the last panda to be housed in Latin America.

The debate over zoos

A panda in a tree.

Many a animal lover has been to a zoo and seen the dull stares, stereotypes, and evidence of humans harming their lives. However, some species have benefited from zoo programs, as is the case with the giant panda itself. The debate is firmly on the table.

There’s no denying that it’s impossible to recreate conditions similar to those in the wild for animals living in zoos. Moreover, these organizations, despite having legal obligations as environmental education and conservation centers, are (mostly) private companies. As a result, their priority will always be economic gain.

Currently, cases such as the last panda in Latin America, Xin Xin, bring up this debate again. Is it necessary to lock up a panda and exhibit it? Are there no other ways to continue to revive this species in China? Is it possible to create a zoo which completely avoids any form of animal abuse? Time will tell and we, the people, will be the ones to transform this panorama. What do you think?

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Swaisgood, R., Wang, D. & Wei, F. 2016. Ailuropoda melanoleuca (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T712A121745669. Accessed on 30 January 2023.
  • Cerda Dueñas, C. (2019). La diplomacia panda y el caso de México. México y la cuenca del pacífico8(23), 49-66.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.