By Sabina Mollot
For Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, it’s always been a black and white issue. New York City has been in need of a pair of giant pandas, and now, she cheered, the city will finally get them.
The only obstacle to getting them into a local zoo, she said, was that the Chinese government wanted a letter of support from both New York’s governor and mayor. Previously, Governor Cuomo had been on board with the plan, but Mayor de Blasio had not. Because pandas are expensive to care for (around $1 million a year, according to a Daily News story), the mayor didn’t consider it priority. What changed, Maloney said this week, was that John Catsimatidis, Gristedes CEO and radio talk show host, has stepped in to start a nonprofit to raise the money needed for the effort. This includes paying for getting the pandas on loan, transporting them to the city and paying for their care as well as first building a new habitat at the Bronx Zoo.
Maloney has been attempting to acquire the cuddly creatures for over a year, a passion project that once got her mocked by a political opponent who said she should focus on more pressing matters. The 2014 Republican congressional candidate, Nicholas Di iorio, even had a pal dress up in a panda suit for a press conference.
Maloney, meanwhile, has said having pandas at a city zoo would foster good relations between New York City and “sister city” and draw tourism, not to mention delight schoolchildren. Currently, only four zoos in the United States have pandas: Atlanta, Washington, DC, San Diego and Memphis.
Maloney also said it was her daughters that initially inspired her to bring the pandas over since they were fascinated by the animals.
“My daughters fell in love with them,” she said. “They had maps in their room of where the pandas lived. They’re very loving.”
It was particularly important, added the congresswoman, to get two pandas, as opposed to just one.
“We don’t want them to be lonely,” she said. “We want to create a panda family so we want a boy and a girl.”
While there is no expected date for the pandas’ arrival, Maloney said the next step would be to have scientists here meet with Chinese scientists to make sure the pandas’ keepers here will be equipped to care for them. A requirement of the transfer of pandas is that scientific research will be done on the survivability of the species, since they are endangered.
But already, “There’s been a lot of excitement,” Maloney said. “On the street people ask me, ‘when are the pandas coming?’”
In a letter to the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, a rep for de Blasio, Emma Wolfe, wrote that the mayor welcomes the “enriching collaboration” that the pandas would bring.
Another letter, written by Governor Cuomo in May, asked if the Chinese would consider waiving the $20 million panda loan fee.