Oct 26, 2023 - News

What's happening to David Rubenstein's panda habitat

 Wayne Clough (far left), secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Ambassador Zhang Yesui, of the People's Republic of China, and David Rubenstein

David Rubenstein (far right) donated the panda complex. Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The National Zoo pandas will leave behind throngs of fans and acres of specially grown bamboo — but we want to know what's happening to their cushy, multimillion-dollar panda pad.

Why it matters: Carlyle Group philanthropist David Rubenstein donated $9 million over several years to fund the panda program — but what's the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat without giant pandas?

What's happening: The panda's sprawling indoor/outdoor living area and visitor center is getting a facelift, Mike Beglinger tells Axios. The zoo's associate director of planning, facilities, and exhibits says the habitat will get new containment walls, faux-rock, and updated amenities including a waterfall, pool, and climbing wall.

The David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat. Photo: Anna Spiegel/Axios

What's next: There's no set timeline for when, or even if, pandas will return to the National Zoo. A zoo spokesperson tells Axios they're working with Chinese partners to develop a new giant panda program. So in the meantime, someone else on the Asia Trail may get an upgrade.

  • "We have a shortlist of animals and we're committed to some kind of guest experience," says Beglinger. On that list: the less-hyped but still adorable red pandas.

What they're saying: "I think it's the red panda's time," Beglinger tells Axios.

Thought bubble: Ever since Rusty the red panda (RIP) briefly escaped from the zoo we've had a soft spot for them, too.

The intrigue: While Rubenstein has had plenty to say about pandas in the past, he's tight-lipped. "David is not commenting on the panda situation at this time," Rubenstein's spokesperson Christopher Ullman wrote in an email.


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