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Zoo Atlanta seeks $500K to keep giant pandas
Panda photo Heal
Giant panda Lun Lun, born August 25, 1997, is seen snacking on bamboos in her enclosure at the Atlanta Zoo Wednesday. Zoo officials announced a fundraising effort "Give So They Stay" Wednesday, to keep the pandas at the zoo. - photo by Associated Press
    ATLANTA — Zoo Atlanta says it needs $500,000 to keep its giant pandas, the irresistibly adorable exotic creatures that have been the zoo's biggest draw for the past decade.
    The zoo has launched an online fundraising campaign to help raise half a million dollars for a new 5-year lease for Lun Lun and Yang Yang. The pair came to Atlanta in 1999, and the 10-year agreement with China ends this year.
    "We wanted everybody to participate in a decision to keep them or not keep them," Zoo President and CEO Dennis Kelly said during a Wednesday news conference at the giant panda habitat.
    The new agreement would cost the zoo $2.5 million in loan fees, most of which zoo officials have already raised, Kelly said.
    Lun Lun and Yang Yang have had two cubs in the last three years, the only giant panda cubs born at U.S. zoos in 2006 and 2008. Atlanta is one of just four U.S. zoos to display the endangered creatures.
    The older cub, Mei Lan, will return to China early next year to begin mating, zoo officials said. The new lease would be for the parents and for Xi Lan, who is just 10 months old.
    Kelly said the zoo wants to be sure the public has a say in the future of the giant panda program. He said the slow economy isn't a factor.
    "We would have done this anyway," Kelly said.
    Atlanta resident Nell Mayer said she plans to donate money immediately. The store manager was making one of her twice-a-month visits to see the pandas Wednesday.
    "It would break my heart," she said about the possibility of the panda family returning to China. "Because it doesn't get any cuter than this."
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