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Pandas on loan – D.C. may help pay

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The National Zoo has raised just over half of the $10 million it needs to pay the Chinese government for a 10-year loan of two pandas, the Washington Post reports.

Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small began fundraising as soon as he took office in January, taking zoo scientists to meet potential donors.  Smithsonian officers say that panda pledges include $1.6 million from Bill Marriott and his family, and $1 million from Ruth Holmberg, a member of the family that owns the New York Times.

AES Corp. chairman Roger W. Sant and his wife will donate $1 million.  Sant also chairs the World Wildlife Fund.

The Chubb Corp. has pledged $800,000 to the project, and the Friends of the National Zoo will donate at least $550,000, its president Clint Fields told the Post.

Washington mayor Anthony A. Williams sent a letter to Small saying that he would ask the D.C. council and the D.C. financial control board to give $1 million to the panda effort.

In the letter Williams said that the pandas could bring in millions of dollars in additional tax revenue from tourists.

Zoo administrators signed a letter of intent with Chinese officials after nine months of negotiation.

San Diego and Atlanta, the only U.S. zoos with pandas on loan from China, took several years of talks.

The National Zoo has had a long relationship with Chinese panda agencies because of Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling, the giant panda couple presented to the zoo in 1972.

The zoo also had help from Commerce Secretary William Daley, former Senate majority leader Howard Baker and former World Bank President Barber Conable, all of whom have spoken to Chinese officials on behalf of the zoo.

Chinese officials told zoo officials last summer that the annual fee for the pandas would be $800,000, but recently raised it to $1 million — the same amount paid by the Atlanta and San Diego zoos.

National Zoo officials were authorized to spend up to $12 million.

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