Giant pandas to leave Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC, in December

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The three giant pandas at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., will be returned to China by December 7, the zoo announced in statements released on both Monday, August 21, and Sunday, August 27. 

The announcements came in the birthday press releases for panda Xiao Qi Ji’s third birthday on August 21 — and for his father Tian Tian’s 26th birthday on August 27.

In the press releases, the National Zoo noted that this birthday for the pandas would be their last in the District of Columbia. 

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“He and the Zoo’s female giant panda, 25-year-old Mei Xiang, and their 3-year-old son, Xiao Qi Ji, will leave the Zoo by December,” said the release on August 27.

The zoo announced that there will be “Panda Palooza” — a “giant farewell celebearation” to say goodbye to “three of the zoo’s most popular residents.”

Panda Palooza will be held from Sept. 23 to Oct. 1, said the zoo, with additional details coming in early September, it said.

With the pandas’ pending departure, the National Zoo will be panda-less for the first time in over half a century. 

Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling, the zoo’s first pandas, arrived in April 1972 as a gift from China, said the National Zoo. 

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In February 1972, during President Richard Nixon’s visit to China, first lady Patricia Nixon told Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai that she had quite liked the pandas she had seen at the Beijing zoo, said the National Archives’ website. 

“I’ll give you some,” said Enlai — and Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling were sent over shortly thereafter. 

Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling died in the ’90s, said the National Archives. They had no surviving offspring. 

Their replacements, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, lived at the National Zoo since Dec. 6, 2000, said the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park’s website.

The two were both born at the China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda, located in the province of Sichuan. 

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are the parents of several cubs — although due to the giant panda’s notorious difficulty with natural breeding in captivity, all of Tian Tian’s cubs were conceived through artificial insemination. 

Their first cub, Tai Shan, was born on July 9, 2005. 

He was sent to China on Feb. 4, 2010. 

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In January 2011, the National Zoo and the China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda signed the “Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement,” said the zoo’s website. 

The agreement initially allowed for Mei Xiang and Tian Tan to stay at the zoo through December 2015, and that all cubs born to the two would be sent to China at the age of four. 

Since that agreement was signed, six cubs have been born.

Mei Xiang’s second cub, born on Sept. 16, 2012, died at one week old of liver damage. 

Her third, Bao Bao, was born on Aug. 23, 2013. 

Bao Bao was sent to China a few months before her fourth birthday in 2017. 

The day after Bao Bao’s birth, Mei Xiang delivered Bao Bao’s twin, who was stillborn. 

On Aug. 22, 2015, nearly two years after Bao Bao’s birth, Mei Xiang once again gave birth to twins. 

One twin died on Aug. 26, 2015. 

The other, a male named Bei Bei, lived at the National Zoo until November 2019 before he left for China. 

In December 2020, the National Zoo announced that a three-year extension to the agreement had been signed, meaning that Mei Xiang and Tian Tian would be staying at the zoo through most of 2023. 

After Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Xiao Qi Ji leave D.C., panda lovers can get their giant panda fix at Zoo Atlanta — through 2024, said its website. 

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