Image: Tai Shan.
Matthew Cavanaugh  /  EPA
The one-year-old giant panda Tai Shan eats a bamboo stalk in the new panda habitat that opened Tuesday at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
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updated 4/24/2007 5:39:36 PM ET 2007-04-24T21:39:36

Chinese officials on Tuesday granted Tai Shan, the National Zoo's popular giant panda cub, an extra two years at the Smithsonian Institution park with his parents.

Under a panda loan agreement with China, any cub born at the National Zoo would be returned for breeding sometime after its second birthday. Tai Shan turns 2 on July 9 but will remain with his mother Mei Xiang and father Tian Tian at least until 2009.

Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong presented the zoo with a giant green laminated passport to extend Tai Shan's stay.

"As an envoy of goodwill from the Chinese people and a symbol of friendly cooperation between China and the United States, Tai Shan will continue to bring more happiness and delight to the American people," Wenzhong said.

The cub, now 125 pounds, took a few bites of a celebratory "cake," made of his favorite orange Popsicle and chopped fruit, before the cake rolled down a hill. He soon had both paws on it again and was chomping away.

The zoo's agreement is to give the Chinese government $10 million to keep the adult pandas over 10 years since their arrival in 2000. John Gibbons, a National Zoo spokesman, said that the zoo agreed to pay an additional $600,000 for any cubs born to the pair. The money goes to panda conservation efforts in China. The zoo was not charged any more to extend Tai Shan's stay.

An estimated 2.25 million visitors have gone to the zoo to see the cub since his public debut in December 2005.

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