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MUST READ: Beloved panda born at National Zoo headed to China

WASHINGTON -- A young giant panda who became a major draw after his birth at Washington's National Zoo will leave for China early next year for breeding.

Zoo officials announced Friday that Tai Shan will be leaving the Smithsonian Institution park as soon as January or February.

Panda mother Mei Xiang and father Tian Tian are on a 10-year, $10 million loan to the zoo until December 2010.

Under the Smithsonian's panda loan agreement, any cub born at the zoo must be returned to China for breeding. Tai Shan was born in 2005 and was granted a two-year extension in 2007.

Panda cubs are also slated to leave the zoos in Atlanta and San Diego.

There are a total of 14 pandas on loan from China in U.S. zoos in Atlanta, Washington, San Diego and Memphis, Tenn. Under its agreements with the zoos, China loans panda pairs for breeding and conservation research. Any cubs those pandas produce are also property of China and must become part of the country's breeding program.

The National Zoo asked to keep Tai Shan until the loan agreement for his parents' stay expires.