The Pandas Leave the Smithsonian National Zoo


Baby panda Xiao Qi Ji (L) celebrates his first birthday with his mother Mei Xiang at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, on August 21, 2021. (Photo by Agnes BUN / AFP) (Photo by AGNES BUN/AFP via Getty Images)

Image Courtesy of 1A

By Zachary Lichter

The pandas will be saying their goodbyes to D.C. since their contract between the US and China is coming to an end, leaving the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. 

Since 1972, giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian have been living at the zoo with their cubs, Xiao Qi Ji, Bei Bei, Bao Bao, and Tai Shan, where they have attracted people from all over the world to come and visit them at the zoo

The pandas will be leaving in early December to go back to China due to the expiration of a contract the zoo signed with the Chinese government on having pandas at zoos in the U.S. The contract ends on December 7 of this year

According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Instituite’s website, the pandas have been on the endangered species list for over 25 years when the International Union for Conservation of Nature announced that giant pandas went from being “endangered” to “vulnerable” on their global list of species that are at the risk of going extinct

While the pandas have made a home for themselves at the zoo, zookeepers and scientists have been researching the pandas. Researchers have looked at the science of reproduction and healthcare. They have also looked at the treatment to cure diseases and learned about their biology, panda behavior, and the relationship panda cubs have with their mothers

Donna Phinney, a junior business major and psychology minor, commented on the pandas leaving the zoo.

“I was sad when I heard the pandas were leaving the zoo, but understood that the zoo’s lease was up and the pandas needed to return home,” Phinney said. “I loved being able to go to the zoo and watch them play both inside and outside. The National Zoo is one of the only places where you can see giant pandas in the US. Most people won’t see the giant pandas in their lifetime, and to say I have seen them several times makes me feel pretty cool.”

When the pandas leave in early December, they will be placed into separate containers. The zoo will supply each panda with 300 pounds of bamboo, water, produce, and biscuits. The pandas will fly from Washington Dulles Airport International Airport to Chengdu, China, on a Boeing 777 FedEx Cargo plane decorated with a giant panda logo. During the flight, the plane will stop in Alaska so that the plane can get refueled. 

According to the Washington Post, the pandas will return with zookeepers Lauriel Thompson and Mariel Lally. They will also be traveling with the zoo veterinarian, James Steeil. When the pandas get to China, it is unclear if they will be placed in a zoo or back in the wilderness.

Sarah Mastoros, a junior history and secondary education major, gave her comments about the pandas going back to China.

“I do not think that it is a problem because they were on lease to the United States, once the lease was over we have to give them back,” Mastoros said. “ It is sad but it is something that the zoo needed to do to honor their end of the agreement. I hope that one day China will send back the pandas. I am not sure when or if they ever will but I have hope that one day the pandas will come back to the Smithsonian Zoo.“

With the pandas’ departure, the zoo will renovate their former exhibit. The former panda exhibit will most likely be a new home for a new animal. If the zoo plans to get a new contract with China, they hope to return pandas to their old exhibit. The zoo has not yet discussed with the Chinese government about bringing the pandas back

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