By Meymo Lyons
A young giant panda who became a major draw after his birth at Washington's National Zoo will return to China early next year.
Zoo officials announced Friday morning that Tai Shan will be leaving the Smithsonian Institution park in January or February. 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. Acting Zoo Director Steve Monfort says the zoo asked to keep Tai Shan until his parents' stay expires later in 2010, but a panda conservation group decided that he should become part of their breeding program.
Monfort says the zoo hopes they can translate the attention Tai Shan generated into action to sustain the panda population.