The Federal Government has said Adelaide Zoo's two popular giant pandas will be staying put regardless of which of the major parties wins the election.
But despite making the announcement, the Government itself will not be paying to keep Wang Wang and Fu Ni when the current lease agreement expires this year.
Under a deal with China, the South Australian Government would instead spend about $3.5 million over five years allowing the pandas to remain until at least 2024.
"We've been working closely with Zoos SA to … give five years of future certainty to the pandas," Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said.
The announcement, which is part of a bigger deal involving a $50 million safari resort at Monarto Zoo, comes just weeks after Federal Labor committed to keeping the pandas.
At the time, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made it clear the animals were not a priority.
But Premier Steven Marshall said the pandas had become a major tourism drawcard over the past decade, and that keeping them had involved "delicate" negotiations.
"We love Wang Wang and Fu Ni. They're a massive attraction here," he said.
"We would love to have some panda cubs right here at the Adelaide Zoo."
Despite high expectations the zoo would be boasting the patter of tiny paws, Wang Wang and Fu Ni have so far failed to produce offspring.
PHOTO: Wang Wang and Fu Ni have been in Adelaide for about a decade. (ABC News: Matt Coleman)
Zoos SA CEO Elaine Bensted said the pandas were still of breeding age, but that the zoo would consider seeking another male to boost the chances of a cub.
"Breeding is always challenging with giant pandas. Even in China, their facility has a one-in-five success rate," she said.
"I'm going to China shortly and I'll have the discussions with China and our counterparts.
"It's quite a challenge to move giant pandas from one side of the world to the other, so I would imagine we would be keeping the same two pandas."
Wang Wang and Fu Ni have long been political animals, and have often appealed to parties and interest groups seeking to capitalise on their popularity.
Adelaide Zoo secured them shortly after Australia agreed to supply uranium to China in 2006.
Former foreign minister and South Australian Alexander Downer brokered the deal which was welcomed by then prime minister John Howard.
The pandas arrived in 2009 during the prime ministership of Mr Howard's successor, Kevin Rudd, also a strong panda backer.
PHOTO: "Panda diplomacy" is part of China's strategy of building overseas relations. (ABC News: Claire Campbell)
Sunday's announcement comes amid ongoing scrutiny of Australia's political ties with China, with the Federal Government also facing questions about its handling of the case of detained Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun.
So-called "panda diplomacy" is an established part of China's strategy of building ties with other nations.
But Griffith University international law expert Sue Harris Rimmer said the practice was not necessarily sinister.
She said the "soft power" approach could encourage, rather than inhibit, difficult conversations about topics such as human rights.
"[Pandas have] always been used by China as a trust signal, so if they took the pandas back that would be very bad," Associate Professor Rimmer said.
"I think it's quite good that China continues to trust Australia in this way. I think it's important to keep having conversations with China about environmentalism, about conservation but also about human rights."
PHOTO: An artist's impression of the redeveloped visitor centre at Monarto. (Supplied)
The State and Federal governments have also jointly committed $15.8 million towards the creation of a new visitor centre at Monarto Zoo near Murray Bridge.
"We've locked this funding in. This is before the Federal Government has gone into caretaker mode," Mr Marshall said.
The funding commitment is expected to "unlock" another $35 million in private investment to develop a safari resort and other facilities, Mr Birmingham said.
Monarto Zoo already attracts about 160,000 visitors each year but its current visitor centre is more than 20 years.
Ms Bensted said the facilities could not "cope" with a "rapid growth in visitation" over the past five years.
"We're very hopeful and have plans that that will increase above 220,000 visitors," she said.
"Here at Adelaide [Zoo] we get about 420,000 visitors every year and about a third of those come from outside of South Australia."
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