New York City grocery billionaire John Catsimatidis claims he is attempting to persuade the Chinese government to lend panda pandas to the Central Park Zoo in the Big Apple.
The Greek-born radio show host believes the large, endearing bears might bring in over $10 million for New York, since the city’s tourist sector has been sluggish to recover from COVID-19, with foot traffic in Lower Manhattan still down 33% from pre-pandemic levels.
“I’ll even pick them up,” Catsimatidis told The New York Post. “Kids have nothing to look forward to in New York City right now. It will be a symbol of peace and culture.”
Catsimatidis, 75, claims he already has a channel of communication open with the Chinese embassy. The wealthy businessman intends to discuss the issue during a news conference later on Tuesday.
In an attempt to move the creatures to New York City, Catsimatidis intends to launch the formation of a commission. The former mayoral candidate encouraged the sons of former President Donald Trump, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump, to participate in the endeavor to bring two pandas from China when he co-chaired a campaign to establish a panda exhibit in Central Park back in 2017.
Catsimatidis’ comments come after pandas Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and youngster Xiao Qi Ji returned to China on Nov. 8 after failed negotiations to prolong their stay at the National Zoo in Washington. There are now just four pandas in U.S. – all of them in Atlanta – after San Diego and Memphis gave up theirs.
However, Chinese President Xi Jinping said last week that he intends to send more pandas to American zoos, referring to the animals as “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples” during a dinner given by the National Committee on US-China Relations and the US-China Business Council.
“We are ready to continue our cooperation with the United States on panda conservation, and do our best to meet the wishes of the Californians so as to deepen the friendly ties between our two peoples,”
China’s move to repatriate pandas came after strained relations with Washington that started under Trump and became worse during the COVID-19 epidemic, which some US agencies believe started with a leak from a Chinese facility conducting dangerous research that ultimately killed over 1.1 million Americans.