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 at the close of 2023.
Update: Giant Pandas in the U.S.
As the countdown to their farewell began, Washington, DC relinquished its role as a home to Giant Pandas, with Zoo Atlanta assuming the mantle as the sole U.S. zoo housing these captivating creatures. Presently, the Atlanta zoo hosts two adult pandas and two cubs. Their stay in the United States is destined to conclude in 2024 as they prepare for their journey back to their homeland in China.
At the recent APEC meeting in San Francisco, Mayor London Breed conveyed her enthusiasm to President Xi Jinping about fostering a partnership between the city and the San Francisco Zoo for hosting Giant Pandas. San Diego Zoo is also in the running for this opportunity.
The year 2024 holds the promise of excitement for California as discussions unfold. Stay tuned for further updates…
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.