Farewell to Pandas in D.C.

A panda in the Smithsonian Zoo playing with a ball. Photo taken by Augusta Beekman.
A panda in the Smithsonian Zoo playing with a ball. Photo taken by Augusta Beekman.

On November 8th, 2023 Washington D.C. said goodbye to the beloved pandas from the Smithsonian Zoo. Mei Xiang and Tian Tian came to the United States on loan from China in December, 2000. In exchange for the pandas, the Smithsonian Zoo helped contribute towards the study and conservation efforts for giant pandas in China. Since 2000, the giant panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement has been renewed three times in 2011, 2015, and 2020. China did not specify their reason for refusing to renew the loan after 2020. Other zoos across America, including the Atlanta, Memphis, and San Diego zoos have all had similar panda leases with China. 

The loan on pandas started in 1972 when America was gifted two giant pandas from China after the Nixons visited the country. The Smithsonian Zoo kept the pandas Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing for 20 years. The popularity of the pandas led to the loan of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. During their stay, the pandas had seven cubs utilizing artificial insemination, but only one stayed in D.C. The cub was named Xiao Qi Jl, which means ¨little miracle¨ in Mandarin. 

Although Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and Xiao Qi Ji will be missed, the Smithsonian Zoo and Chinese partners have contributed to the study of pandas, their habitats, and reproductive research. In part of these efforts, giant pandas are no longer endangered. Currently, the only four pandas left in the U.S. are in the Atlanta Zoo, but are scheduled to travel back to China next year. 

Only a week after their departure, Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden met about having the pandas return to America. Although not official, this is said to strengthen ties between China and the U.S. Other details have not been shared, but President Xi Jinping suggested that the pandas will most likely return to the San Diego Zoo. 

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