The zoo has launched an online fundraising campaign to help raise the money for a new five-year lease for Lun Lun and Yang Yang. The pair came to Atlanta in 1999, and the 10-year agreement with China ends this year.
"We wanted everybody to participate in a decision to keep them or not keep them," zoo President and CEO Dennis Kelly said during a news conference today at the panda habitat.
The new agreement would cost the zoo $2.5 million in loan fees, most of which zoo officials have already raised, Mr. Kelly said.
Lun Lun and Yang Yang have had two cubs in the past three years, the only giant panda cubs born at U.S. zoos in 2006 and 2008. Atlanta is one of just four U.S. zoos to display the endangered creatures.
The older cub, Mei Lan, will return to China early next year to begin mating, zoo officials said. The new lease would be for the parents and for Xi Lan, who is 10 months old.
Mr. Kelly said the zoo wants to be sure the public has a say in the future of the giant panda program. He said the slow economy isn't a factor.
"We would have done this anyway," he said.