50 years of ‘adorable antics’: National Zoo celebrates giant pandas

Wednesday is National Panda Day, and the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in D.C. is kicking off its six-month celebration to commemorate 50 years of caring and hosting giant pandas.

Through Aug. 27, the zoo will hold a series of events online and on-site to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the giant panda program.

Giant panda mother Mei Xiang, left, and son Xiao Qi Ji, right, at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. (Courtesy Smithsonian National Zoo/Skip Brown)

These include a Giant Panda Family Tree Photo Gallery on Wednesday; the premiere of the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary “The Miracle Club” and Pandaversary on April 16 and 17; and other activities, details of which can be found in full on the zoo’s website.

“After 50 years, giant pandas remain an iconic species for our zoo,” Brandie Smith, the John and Adrienne Mars Director of the zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, said in a statement. “More importantly, they represent how great conservation outcomes can be achieved through great partnerships with our Chinese colleagues.”

Working together for five decades, U.S. and Chinese conservationists made contributions to the global knowledge of giant panda biology, behavior, reproduction, health and habitat, and saving the species from extinction, the zoo said in a news release. Giant pandas are listed as “vulnerable” in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are an estimated 1,800 giant pandas living in the wild.

“Fifty years ago, pandas were not thriving in China,” Pamela Baker-Masson, a spokeswoman for the National Zoo, told WTOP. “Together with our colleagues, we’ve mastered some of the critical things that have brought them back from the brink of extinction, like biology and reproduction, and we understand their habitats so much better.”

The celebration extends in the surrounding areas, with businesses in Cleveland and Woodley Park offering “Panda Specials” that range from panda-themed treats to discounts on merchandise and food through May 15, the zoo said. Look for Giant Panda 50th Anniversary decals to find participating shops.

The zoo has renewed its giant panda research and breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association three times since 2000. The current deal, which was extended in 2020, allows the pandas to continue living in the National Zoo. In exchange, the Smithsonian provides funding and expertise toward conservation in China.

“When people, no matter your nationality, look at giant pandas, what they care about is this incredibly charismatic animal. They care about the animal; they care about its environment; they care about all the other animals that live in that environment as well,” Baker-Masson said.

“I think it’s remarkable that our scientists here in the United States and in China, globally, have worked together, politics aside, and really strive to do something that was significant and important for our world.”

The zoo’s current pandas include Tian Tian, male, 24; Mei Xiang, female, 23; and their 18-month old male cub, Xiao Qi Ji. The first pandas arrived at the zoo in 1972, following President Richard Nixon’s state visit to China; they were given by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai to the American people as a gesture of good will.

Giant pandas Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (Courtesy Smithsonian’s National Zoo)
Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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