Panda Palooza kicks off at National Zoo, marking start of giant goodbye to DC’s 3 giant pandas

Panda Palooza includes a nine-day series of events in honor of 25-year-old Mei Xiang, 26-year-old Tian Tian and 3-year-old Xiao Qi Ji. (WTOP/Heather Gustafson)
A reduced crowd showed up for the event’s Saturday start because of rainy weather, but there was still a line of people outside the enclosure for the pandas. (WTOP/Heather Gustafson)

D.C.’s giant pandas are heading back to China, and the National Zoo is sending them off with a celebration: Panda Palooza.

On Saturday, a reduced crowd showed up because of rainy weather, but the line still extended outside the enclosure for people hoping to catch a glimpse of the pandas. Visitors even have the opportunity to see Zoo staff feed the bears treats.

Carolyn Smith traveled from Columbus, Ohio to see the bears: “I just came to say my goodbyes.”

The celebration includes a nine-day series of events in honor of 25-year-old Mei Xiang, 26-year-old Tian Tian and 3-year-old Xiao Qi Ji.

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian came to the zoo in 2000 as part of an agreement between the zoo and China Wildlife and Conservation Association.

They were only meant to stay for 10 years, but the agreement with China was extended several times.

The Palooza will run until Oct. 1, rain or shine.

The departure of Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Xiao Qi Ji will mark the first time the Zoo has not had pandas since 1972. They are set to leave the zoo by Dec 7.

For the next nine days, the Palooza is set to offer photo backdrops, hands-on arts and crafts, a special kids’ area, crafts, morning family stretching and yoga, panda talks, temporary tattoos, a conservation-themed scavenger hunt, live music concerts and free film screenings of “Kung Fu Panda” and “The Miracle Cub” in the Visitor Center Theater.

The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China is also offering special treats and a calligraphy station. National Zoo Members will have a designated hangout area on the Panda Overlook with giveaways, and Zoo food and beverage vendors will offer panda-themed items.

If the government shuts down, the Zoo will be closed to visitors.

More information on Panda Palooza is available online.

WTOP’s Valerie Bonk contributed to this report.

Heather Gustafson

Heather Gustafson is a Freelance Anchor/Reporter for WTOP, a DMV native and an Emmy award-winning journalist lauded for her 2020 Black Lives Matter protests coverage.

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