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Monday, June 17, 2024

Pandas Set to Return to the National Zoo

Along the Asia Trail sits one of the most popular exhibits at the Smithsonian National Zoo (3001 Connecticut Ave NW). It’s been quiet there since Mei Xiang and Tian Tian returned to China last fall, but, soon, the space will once again be filled with two playful giant pandas.

The zoo staff is excited to welcome the new guests Bao Li and Qing Bao this year in partnership with the China Wildlife Conservation. For decades, crowds of children and adults have gathered around the exhibit, both in person and at home through the virtual Panda Cam, hoping to catch a glimpse of the giant pandas in residence.

The previous residents arrived from China in 2000 as part of a loan agreement program. The agreement has been extended several times over the years, but the pandas, and their cub Xiao Qi Ji, were sent back to China with no firm plans for a return.

Pandas have been a major tourist attraction in DC since the first pair was gifted to the US from China in 1972. The local celebrities have also served as a symbol of cross-cultural collaboration between the United States and China and have created the foundation for research programs at the zoo.

Director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute Brandie Smith noted that “millions” have connected with the bears and their cubs virtually and in person over the years and emphasized their impact on both visitors and researchers at Smithsonian.

“We’re thrilled to announce the next chapter of our breeding and conservation partnership begins by welcoming two new bears, including a descendent of our beloved panda family, to Washington, DC,” Smith said.

The arrival of the pandas nearly two decades ago kick started the zoo’s research and conservation efforts for the species at home and abroad. The research focused on panda biology, behavior, reproduction and disease. Their efforts have succeeded in helping move the panda from endangered status to vulnerable on the global list of species at risk for extinction.

Before the popular exhibit reopens to the public, the bears will undergo a standard quarantine procedure. Upon their arrival, they will also be given a few weeks to acclimate to their new environment. The animal care team will announce a date for the public debut soon.

You can visit the zoo, and say hello to its newest residents, Monday through Sunday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free timed entry passes are required to enter. Visit nationalzoo.si.edu to learn more about the giant pandas and to plan a visit to the zoo.

Sarah Payne is a reporter for Capital Community News. She can be reached at sarahp@hillrag.com.

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