Nov 16, 2023 - History

A look back on Columbus' panda-monium

A giant panda eats bamboo at the Columbus Zoo in 1992

One of two giant pandas that temporarily lived in Columbus in 1992. Photo: Courtesy of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

As the giant pandas housed at U.S. zoos return to China, the adorable bears are captivating us again — much like when they first came stateside in the '70s.

Flashback: The Columbus Zoo experienced its own panda-monium in 1992, when it housed pandas for nearly four months as part of the city's celebration of the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' first voyage to America.

  • Qin Qin and Xing Xing, two young males, drew nearly a million visitors over the summer, The Dispatch reported.
  • Their temporary exhibit was where the bonobos currently reside.

What they're saying: "People would come in early and run down to the panda exhibit to be the first in line," Dusty Lombardi, then the zoo's mammal curator, tells Axios.

  • "It wasn't just Ohio — they came from everywhere to see these guys."
  • Lombardi flew back to the U.S. from China with the bears on a cargo plane and oversaw their care locally.

The intrigue: To train for the occasion, Lombardi spent a week at Smithsonian's National Zoo caring for Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, the giant pandas gifted to the U.S. following President Nixon's visit to China in 1972.

Of note: As part of Columbus' panda transaction, any excess funds generated by their visit had to go toward panda conservation. The zoo used the money to establish a new fund that still supports a variety of animal conservation efforts worldwide.

Go deeper: Celebrity Status: Why pandas captivate us


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