D.C.’s favorite black and white bears are celebrating their matriarch’s birthday. Mei Xiang turned 25 years old Saturday, in what is likely her last birthday in the nation’s capital.
Hundreds of panda fans gathered around Mei’s habitat as she toyed with her baby blue fruitsicle cake, occasionally taking a nibble as she opened her presents full of treats.
“It is amazing to be able to have the opportunity to spend another birthday with Mei. I feel it’s a privilege,” Gina Koo, who came all the way from New Jersey to celebrate, told WTOP.
Mei Xiang, meaning “beautiful fragrance,” was born in 1998 at the China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong, Sichuan Province.
She and Tian Tian, a male panda, moved to the Smithsonian National Zoo on Dec. 6, 2000, and since that date she has captured the hearts of animal lovers.
“She’s my favorite panda. I’ve never missed her birthday before,” said Sonal Purohit, who flew in for Mei Xiang’s birthday.
“They’re our bears and you get to know their personalities and what they like, what they don’t like and Mei Xiang, she’s such a smart bear and such a great mom and being able to watch her raise her cubs has been just incredible.”
Mei has birthed four cubs including Xiao Qi Ji, who was born in 2020. Mei became the oldest panda in North America to have a cub.
The celebration also has special meaning because it will likely be Mei’s last birthday in Washington D.C. She and the other two bears are scheduled to move to China on Dec. 7, 2023 as part of an agreement with the China Wildlife and Conservation Association.