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Government Denies Permit for Michigan Panda Exhibition

June 20, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Michigan exhibition of two rare giant pandas from China might harm the species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday in refusing permission to import the animals.

The Pandarama exhibit, sponsored by Michigan United Conservation Clubs and the state Department of Natural Resources, would have displayed the animals for 100 days this summer at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit.

Under an agreement with China’s Sichuan Province, the exhibitors would pay at least $300,000 for the loan of the pandas, and the money would be used to build a panda captive-breeding facility and to improve wild pandas’ natural habitat.

″There are some risks to the species from the loan which are not adequately outweighed by the potential benefits,″ the Fish and Wildlife decision said. ″A reduction in the threat of extinction from this import cannot be demonstrated from the information in the record.″

The decision said expansion of facilities for breeding pandas in captivity ″could lead to the removal of additional animals from the wild to stock it.″

The two pandas proposed for the Michigan exhibit are already living in captivity in the Chendu Zoo.

Under an international treaty, pandas born in 1984 and after cannot be imported without a permit. Fewer than 1,000 giant pandas are thought to exist.

A spokesman for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Don Stypula, said the agency’s ruling was ″preposterous″ and the exhibit’s organizers would appeal through administrative channels.

″We’re wondering now how the Chinese are going to react to this,″ Stypula said. ″This is a slap in the face to them, more so than to us.″

The Fish and Wildlife decision came amid efforts by the World Wildlife Fund and the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, to close an exhibition of two Chinese pandas in Toledo, Ohio.

After the Fish and Wildlife Service granted permission for the Toledo exhibition, the animal preservation groups sued in federal court in Washington. They argued that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to determine that the pandas weren’t imported for commercial purposes and that their display would promote survival of the species. Both are criteria for issuing an import permit.

The Toledo Zoo argued that closing the exhibit would deny the public a chance to see the endangered species and to learn something about China. Zoo attorneys also said closing the exhibition could harm international relations between the United States and China.

David Klinger, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency found ″a more conclusive demonstration of benefit to the species in the Toledo case.″

The decision also said having an exhibition in Detroit at the same time one was under way in nearby Toledo would reduce the educational benefits.

Backers of the Toledo exhibit reached agreement for the loan with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, which is affiliated with China’s national government.

The Michigan organizers dealt with official bodies in Sichuan Province, where most wild pandas live. The provincial authorities in turn handled contacts with China’s national government, Stypula said.

William Reilly, president of the World Wildlife Fund, praised the denial of the Michigan permit. ″Short-term loans of giant pandas to the United States were out of control,″ he said. ″Economic incentives simply cannot be allowed to drive American zoos and amusement parks to import pandas.″

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