World / US and Canada

NY congresswoman: "Let's have a panda"

(China Daily) Updated: 2016-02-08 10:18

New Yorkers like to boast that their city has everything, but now a local congresswoman says it is time the Big Apple has "something happy' – two panda cubs.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney's long and determined effort to get the black-and-white bears from China has won over a reluctant Mayor Bill de Blasio, gained the support of two local billionaires (including longtime China businessman Maurice Greenberg) to help raise money for the pandas' habitat, and gotten a basically we'll-consider-it message from China's ambassador to the United States, The New York Times reported on Sunday.

Why pandas in New York City?

"After the financial crisis, 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, it's about time to have something happy," Maloney told a reporter with the newspaper as she walked through the Bronx Zoo recently in a scarf decorated with pandas. "Let's have a panda."

In a story published on Sunday – "Congresswoman's Long Quest: Bringing Pandas to New York" – the newspaper detailed her efforts, including letters to Chinese officials seeking their support, a visit in 2014 to China and a panda preserve in Chengdu, and badgering de Blasio, whom she said in a local radio program last winter "doesn't like pandas".

The mayor now supports her efforts, as does New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages the Central Park Zoo, the newspaper said. But approval from the mayor and the Wildlife organization came with a requirement: the animals would stay at the much larger Bronx Zoo, not the Central Park Zoo, and the needed funds – estimated at $50 million – would be raised privately.

As for raising the money, Maloney recently obtained support from Greenberg, who will host a breakfast in March to kick off a fundraising campaign for the panda habitat, the newspaper said. "Our city would benefit in numerous ways from this project," he said in a statement.

Maloney also has the support of another local billionaire, John A. Catsimatidis. The owner of a supermarket chain in the city and a candidate in 2013 for the Republican nomination for mayor said that he would lead a fundraising drive and estimated that he could collect the money for a panda exhibit in 90 days, The Times said.

"More support has come from an even less likely source," the newspaper said: Former US House speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican and a zoo enthusiast. "Surely the greatest American city ought to have pandas," Gingrich wrote.

But David Towne, chairman of the US-based Giant Panda Conservation Foundation, said zoos in Atlanta, Memphis, Tennessee, and San Diego and Washington have giant pandas, and "China has been very vocal in saying, no more pandas to North America, or to the US, specifically," according to the Times.

But in October, Maloney received a message from Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador in Washington, saying that China's forestry authorities would enter preliminary talks with New York and would "consider the formal initiation of cooperation when conditions are mature", the newspaper reported.

As her quest continues, Maloney told the newspaper she has begun to think of what kind of animals New York could give to China in return as a token of appreciation and cultural exchange: "Maybe, the upstate deer are so sweet, and they're sort of a symbol of peace."

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