Sep 6, 2023 - News

The National Zoo is throwing a big sendoff party for its pandas

Xiao Qi Ji celebrates with cake. Photo: Aaron Schwartz/Xinhua via Getty Images

The National Zoo pandas are saying bear-well to D.C. in December and flying back to China.

Why it matters: Pandas are as much of a D.C. symbol as cherry blossoms — and this will be the first time in decades that the city is giant panda-less.

Driving the news: So naturally the zoo is sending them off with a big panda party, starting Sept. 23 (and they know how to party).

  • Panda Palooza, a nine-day family-friendly event, includes arts and crafts, panda talks, panda food/drink specials, conservation-themed scavenger hunts, and free screenings of "Kung Fu Panda" (to name a few activities).
  • Free entry passes are required.

Catch up quick: The National Zoo's first pandas arrived in 1972 during the Nixon administration as a gift from China and as a diplomatic gesture. The giant bears have been a fixture since then, though largely on loan from the Chinese government (hence the return).

  • Current giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian arrived in 2000 as part of a joint research, breeding, and conservation program with China. They bred four surviving cubs. Three are "thriving" at the China Conservation and Research Center, according to zoo officials.
  • Xiao Qi Ji ("Little Miracle") was born in 2020 when Mei Xiang was 22, the second-oldest panda to give documented birth. He'll leave with his parents by Dec. 7.

What's next: How long will D.C. be panda-less? The million yuan question. Zoo spokesperson Annalisa Meyer tells Axios they're working with Chinese partners to develop a new giant panda program.

  • "After 51 years of success, we remain committed to the conservation of this species which includes gaining a better understanding of the giant panda habitat. … Now it is a question of what the science and conservation needs are for the future."

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