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Taking the Kids: Go See Washington’s Giant Pandas While You Still Can

Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

The clock is ticking. If you want to see the Giant Pandas at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute (aka The National Zoo in Washington, DC), it’s time to plan a trip.

The zoo’s enormously popular in-residence giant panda family — 24-year-old male Tian Tian (tee-YEN), whose name means “more and more,” 23-year-old female Mei Xiang (may-SHONG), whose name means “beautiful fragrance”); and their 18-month-old male cub Xiao Qi Ji (SHIAU-chi-ji), whose name means “little miracle — will be returning to China in early December. There have been no announcements whether others will replace them.

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (NZCBI) will celebrate its three giant pandas before the bears depart with the Panda Palooza, a nine-day onsite and online series of events in honor of 25-year-old Mei Xiang (may-SHONG), 26-year-old Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN) and 3-year-old Xiao Qi Ji (SHIAU-chi-ji) from Sept. 23 to Oct. 1.

During the nine-day family-friendly celebration, visitors can dive into free panda-themed fun, supported by entertainment partner Events DC, including hashtag-worthy photo backdrops, hands-on arts and crafts, 'Kids Area’ in the Great Meadow with a soft play section; chalkboard, coloring and stamping activities; morning family stretching and yoga along with panda talks, temporary tattoos, conservation-themed scavenger hunt, live music concerts on the Mainstage by Lion Tiger Hill and free film screenings of "Kung Fu Panda" and "The Miracle Cub" in the Visitor Center Theater. In addition, fun activities, a calligraphy station and tasty celebratory treats will be provided courtesy of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China.

“Millions have connected with and grown up loving Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and their cubs by visiting us in Washington, D.C., and watching our Giant Panda Cam,” said Brandie Smith, the John and Adrienne Mars Director of NZCBI. “Caring for one animal and its future is the beginning of caring more deeply for the natural world and our place in it. Although this farewell is bittersweet, we must celebrate these bears and their impact on fans and on our understanding, care and conservation of their species.”

Last year, The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute celebrated 50 years of unprecedented achievement in the care, conservation, breeding and study of giant pandas. Over the past five decades, the zoo’s bears have become international icons, beloved both for their adorable antics and their ability to bring colleagues from the United States and China together to collaborate for a common goal: saving the species from extinction.


How did the pandas get here in the first place? At a dinner in Beijing, China, in Feb. 1972, first lady Patricia Nixon mentioned her fondness for giant pandas to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. As a gesture of goodwill following President Nixon’s historic state visit, Premier Enlai gifted two giant pandas to the American people.

President and Mrs. Nixon selected the Smithsonian National Zoo because it is located in the nation’s capital and is one of the few zoos with free admission. On April 16, 1972, giant pandas Ling-Ling (a female) and Hsing-Hsing (a male) arrived at the zoo.

The National Zoo entered into its first Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) in Dec. 2000 when giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian arrived at the zoo. Xiao Qui Ji’s birth in August, 2022 was announced with great fanfare. Mei Xiang, 22, set a record of being the oldest giant panda in the United States to give birth and the second oldest panda to give birth in the world. Check out the zoo’s Giant Panda Cam!

The initial agreement between the zoo and CWCA was a 10-year agreement and has been renewed three times since 2010. It expires Dec. 7, 2023.


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