National Zoo panda program to get major gift

(Photo: Smithsonian National Zoo)

WASHINGTON (AP/ABC7) — The National Zoo is preparing to announce a major gift Monday that will fund its giant panda reproduction program for five more years.

The zoo will announce that philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, a co-founder and managing director of the global asset-management firm Carlyle Group, is donating $4.5 million to the program.

The gift will allow the zoo to proceed with a five-year plan established with the Chinese wildlife officials to try to produce another cub, officials said.

PHOTOS: Mei Xiang and Tian Tian frolic and eat at the National Zoo

"We are honored to be part of a cherished program that brings joy to millions of people and draws together two great nations working to preserve these magnificent and gentle giant pandas," Rubenstein said.

The zoo says male panda Tian Tian has been showing the first signs of breeding behavior for the season. But officials have said they may seek to swap female Mei Xiang out for another female because there's a high likelihood she won't succeed in having another cub.

On Monday, officials said they are getting frozen semen from a now deceased panda at San Diego's zoo to use as a backup this year if Tian Tian's semen isn't of sufficient quality for artificial insemination. They continue to keep the DC panda couple separated in different yards and enclosures.

The $4.5 million gift will allow the Smithsonian and its scientists five more years to explore various goals that have been jointly established with Chinese conservationists.

A portion of the research will focus on giant panda reproduction and management, which resulted in the 2005 birth of Tai Shan.

In January, the Smithsonian signed a new five-year, $2.5 million agreement with China to keep the popular pandas in Washington. The agreement stipulated that one or both of the pandas could be traded for others if they can't breed.

The donation is unusual for Rubenstein, who has made large gifts to cultural institutions including museums and the Kennedy Center. A spokesman said Rubenstein travels often to China for business investments in industries ranging from fishing and forestry to insurance. Rubenstein also serves on the board of Tsinghua University in China.