WASHINGTON — Nothing much has changed for the goofy giant pandas and the rascally red pandas. They’re still on display, climbing, falling, flopping and doing all the cute and entertaining things that make the pandas the most popular display at the National Zoo.
But on Saturday morning, a ribbon was cut on the new indoor exhibit adjacent to their habitats. The interactive exhibit is meant to inform and educate visitors about what has been learned about the beloved bears.
“The scale of this event just shows how much the giant pandas are adored in this country,” said Chinese Minister Xu Xueyuan. “The giant pandas are truly the superstars in this zoo.”
The goal of the exhibit is to channel the charisma of the animals into an educational opportunity.
“We actually capitalize upon that [popularity] and actually use that as an opportunity to educate our guests,” said Michael Brown-Palsgrove, curator of the panda exhibit. “When they’re standing there looking at the pandas there’s an opportunity to turn around and learning something as well.”
“This new exhibit tells a remarkable story,” said Steve Monfort, director of the zoo. “We have videos and new graphics, models and interactive games that we want our guests … to enjoy.”
There are graphics, videos and even games that provide visitors with a broad lesson about the pandas, from their biology, to their food preference, to the struggles and successes achieved in the conservation efforts surrounding them.
“It’s a really good opportunity for really basic information for some of the road blocks they’ve faced,” said Brown-Palsgrove, “and where we’ve come in the last 40 years.”
“We have three interactives in the building themselves,” he added. “One of them is actually a panda maze and it sort of talks about how there are road blocks to saving the panda, and even in conserving habitat, they still face roadblocks to actually find other pandas in the wild and breed. So we talk about some of the things we’ve done to improve that, or some of the things that they still face.”
Pandas are still considered a vulnerable species, but that’s an upgrade from when they once stood as an endangered species. And the zoo says as the population rebound, scientists who have tracked them in China are finding out that other animals species are also improving.
“We’ve made great advancements since we initially designed this exhibit,” said Brown-Palsgrove. “And we can update the information and give people new information about pandas here at the zoo and in the wild.”