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Giant Pandas at National Zoo, Washington DC - © lovetoeatandtravel.com

Giant Pandas at National Zoo

Home » Blog » Giant Pandas at National Zoo


During a recent visit to Washington, DC, our itinerary included a fun detour to the National Zoo, where the enchanting world of Giant Pandas awaited. Our timing proved serendipitous, aligning with a rare opportunity to witness the trio of cuddly pandas – Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and their playful cub Xiao Qi Ji – before their return to China at the end of 2023.

History of Giant Pandas in DC

Washington, DC’s history with Giant Pandas began in 1972, against the backdrop of a diplomatic dinner in Beijing, China. It was during this event that First Lady Patricia Nixon, expressing her admiration for the pandas, kindled a gesture of goodwill from Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. In the wake of President Nixon’s groundbreaking visit to China, the Chinese Premier presented a pair of Giant Pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, as a symbol of friendship to the American people.

Choosing the nation’s capital as their new residence, the pandas found a home at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, selected by President Nixon and his wife. Over the ensuing two decades, the pandas, despite their initial challenges, became a beloved attraction, captivating millions of visitors who enjoyed the Zoo’s year-round free admission policy.

In 2000, a new chapter unfolded as Giant Pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian arrived at the National Zoo. The year 2020 brought a heartwarming milestone with the birth of Xiao Qi Ji, whose name translates to “Little Miracle” in Mandarin Chinese. However, an agreement in December 2020 marked a poignant turn, signaling the impending return of the pandas to China.

On November 8, 2023, Washington’s three Giant Pandas embarked on a 19-hour, 9,000-mile journey to Chengdu, China.

July 2024 Update: Giant Pandas in the U.S.

San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo welcomed two Giant Pandas (Yun Chan and Xin Bao) from China in July 2024.  

San Francisco Zoo

China is sending a pair of Giant Pandas to live at San Francisco’s Zoo for the first time. In 1984 and again in 1985, the San Francisco Zoo temporarily hosted Giant Pandas from China as part of a global tour. This will be the first time the Giant Pandas will have residency at the SF Zoo. Note: Their arrival, estimated to be sometime in 2025, is dependent on the construction of a panda enclosure at the zoo, which is underway in collaboration with engineers from the Beijing Zoo. 

National Zoo in DC

Talks are also underway to see a return of Giant Pandas to National Zoo in Washington, D.C.  Stay tuned for further updates…

Giant Panda at National Zoo, Washington DC - © lovetoeatandtravel.com
Giant Panda at National Zoo, Washington DC - © lovetoeatandtravel.com

Where to See Giant Pandas in China – Panda Capital of the World

Encountering Giant Pandas in their natural habitat is an awe-inspiring experience, and China’s Sichuan Province stands as the epicenter of this extraordinary encounter. The city of Chengdu boasts two prominent locations, Dujiangyan Panda Base and Wolong Panda Base, both contributing to the province’s well-deserved moniker as the “Panda Capital of the World.” Beyond Chengdu, other noteworthy destinations include Chongqing Zoo, Guangzhou Chiseling Safari Park, and Beijing Zoo, each offering unique glimpses into the lives of these magnificent creatures.

Although our travels through China didn’t afford us the chance to witness Giant Pandas in their native habitat, the unexpected delight of encountering them in Washington, DC added a special chapter to our panda adventures. And other item to cross off our Bucket List.

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