Eugene Hoshiko  /  AP
Panda cubs from the Wolong Giant Panda Reserve Center in Sichuan lounge at a Shanghai zoo in China.
updated 2/12/2010 11:17:25 AM ET 2010-02-12T16:17:25

Japanese panda fans will be able to see the endangered animals in Tokyo next year for the first time since 2008, after the city reached an agreement to pay nearly $1 million a year to borrow a pair from China, officials said Friday.

Tokyo's Ueno Zoo has been without a giant panda for the first time since 1972, when a pair arrived to mark the signing of a peace treaty between Japan and China. Ling Ling, a panda who came to Tokyo in 1992, died in April 2008 at the age of 22, which in human terms is equivalent to about 70.

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara told reporters Friday that two pandas are expected to arrive in Tokyo early next year and would cost $950,000 a year.

"It's quite a costly deal," Ishihara said, adding that Tokyo officials bargained to get $50,000 off the original $1 million price tag. The payments will help rebuild a panda sanctuary in China's Sichuan province and fund joint breeding projects between Japan and China, he said.

The sanctuary was nearly destroyed by a devastating earthquake in Sichuan in May 2008. Nearly 70,000 people were killed.

Zoos often pay about $1 million a year to borrow pairs of pandas from China. Any cubs produced by the pandas are the property of China.

"Pandas are endangered and everyone loves them," Ishihara said. "We've received strong requests from people in Tokyo and around Japan who want to see them in Tokyo again."

When Ling Ling died two years ago, people sent condolence messages from around the country and his portrait was displayed inside his cage, along with bouquets and offerings of his favorite bamboo shoots.

Chinese President Hu Jintao offered to loan a pair of pandas to Japan during a visit a month later.

There are about 1,600 pandas in the wild, mostly in Sichuan.

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