Celebrating 50 years of Panda Cuteness at the National Zoo
Guest post by angela n., Karen Wille, and Carol McGrath
This month, the National Zoo celebrated fifty years of caring for giant pandas. DC’s extended panda family has produced four surviving cubs and four surviving grandcubs, helping to conserve this formerly endangered species.
Each panda who has called DC home has had their own wonderful personality. We appreciate panda super-fans Ratima Chowadee, Carol McGrath, Frances Nguyen, Victoria Pickering, Cyndy Taylor, Karen Wille, and Judy Young for sharing their photos and memories.
Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing
Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing were gifted to the United States by Mao Zedong in 1972. The Zoo Director at the time described them as “very very lovable” pandas who could “steal your heart away.” They mated and gave birth several times, but sadly none of their cubs survived more than a few days. Ling-Ling passed away in 1992 at age 23, and Hsing-Hsing passed away in 1999 at age 28. The Zoo estimated that they had as many as 75 million visitors over those years.
When Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing came to the zoo, their yards were vastly different then what we see now. They each had a wooden platform and there were very few trees for them to climb. They did play together in the same yard and enjoyed chasing each other around.
A new generation
China loaned the National Zoo a new panda couple in 2000. According to the Washington Post at the time, “Chinese officials say Tian Tian and Mei Xiang are the healthiest, smartest and most active of their generation of cubs” born at their panda reserve. They live at the Zoo to this day.
24-year-old Tian Tian (Papa Bear) has fathered all of the Zoo’s surviving cubs. His faves are baths and snow days.
23-year-old Mei Xiang is the mother of all the Zoo’s surviving cubs. Her hobbies include wrestling and playfully stealing treats from her children. Mei Xiang has always been a very patient and wonderful Mother to all of her cubs.
The Zoo’s first surviving cub, sweet-16-year-old Tai Shan (“Butterstick“) now lives in China. Tai can be a very picky eater and once refused an apple in China because there was a small bruise on it! He is known as a very good boy; his Chinese keepers call him “a courteous gentleman.” He has fathered one cub.
After a seven year “reproductive drought,” Bao Bao was born in 2013. According to The Atlantic, “From the start, Bao Bao was fearless and independent. She loved climbing, and [the National Zoo’s associate director of animal-care sciences at the time, Dr. Brandie] Smith spent many late nights trying to coax her out of trees so she could go home.” Bao Bao moved from DC to China in 2017. Now eight years old, she has given birth to three cubs; you can often see her playing with her cub on the Wolong Grove Panda Cam.
Born in 2015, Bei Bei is a goofy clown who likes to climb as high as possible in the trees and then fall down, constantly, on purpose. He has lived in China since 2019.
Xiao Qi Ji
Xiao Qi Ji (“Little Miracle”) was born live on the panda cam August 2020, bringing joy to so many at a difficult time. His hobbies include being upside down and asking his mom for piggy back rides. He is more cautious, like his Mom, and is the first cub to use Mei Xiang’s method for extracting treats from his enrichment toys.
On April 16th and 17th, the Zoo held a 50th Pandaversary Party!
To learn more about the Zoo’s panda conservation efforts, check out the Zoo’s Pandaversary website and the Smithsonian Channel’s remarkable documentary “The Miracle Panda.”