Giant pandas leave Washington for China

The National Zoo in the US capital Washington has bid farewell to its three giant pandas as the beloved animals began their journey back to China.

US media have been widely covering their departures in connection with the current diplomatic tensions between the US and China.

A giant panda couple and their cub left on a cargo plane on Wednesday.

The cub's parents arrived at the National Zoo on a 10-year loan from China in 2000. The contract had been extended repeatedly under agreements between the US and China.

The National Zoo first hosted giant pandas in 1972. China presented two of them as gifts after Richard Nixon became the first US president to visit China.

Giant pandas have been leased to US zoos and regarded as a symbol of friendship between the two countries. But in recent years, such contracts have not been extended.

The departure of the giant pandas from the National Zoo leaves only four in the US. But the contracts for the remaining pandas at a zoo in the state of Georgia will expire next year.

A visitor to the National Zoo said it is unfortunate that the pandas are going back because they provided a way to relate to the environment and different cultures.

US media are saying that the number of giant pandas in the country is decreasing in proportion to the worsening of US-China relations and there could soon be no pandas left in the US.