Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Information About Tai Shan Going to China

The Zoo announced on December 4, 2009, that Tai Shan, our four-year-old giant panda, will depart for the People’s Republic of China early in the first quarter of 2010, as stipulated in the agreement between the Zoo and the Chinese government. In April 2007, shortly before his second birthday, China granted the Zoo a two-year extension for Tai Shan to remain in Washington, D.C.; that extension expired in July but the Zoo was provided a second extension to January 2010. He left the Zoo for China on February 4, 2010.

We are extremely fond of Tai and know that many people around the world are too. Millions of people have visited him at the Zoo, followed his life on our website, and read about him in countless media stories. He has helped awaken an appreciation for what it takes to conserve an endangered species and inspired many people to get involved in wildlife conservation.

How did we prepare Tai for his trip to China?

Tai was actually quite prepared for this move, thanks to years of excellent husbandry training he has received at the National Zoo. He is used to working with a variety of people (including keepers, curator, and vets) and has been exposed to a variety of sounds and varying routines. At the Zoo, Tai lived in an enriched environment with lots of features in the enclosures and frequent yard changes. Some of his husbandry training involved a squeeze cage, which prepares an animal for entering small spaces, so he did not need to be specifically “crate trained” to a great extent. Also, because he had been passing through chutes and transfer cages for years, he was already used to small spaces. After we identified the exact crate, we began to feed and train him in it so he was familiar with and habituated to it.

How did he get to China?

He was shipped in a plane inside a specially designed crate. Tai was be accompanied by one of his National Zoo keepers and a Zoo veterinarian and was be closely monitored during the entire trip. more

What can you tell us about the shipping crate?

The crate measures 77 1/2 inches long, 56 1/2 inches wide, and 50 inches tall.

Did he get food during the trip?

Zoo staff brought fruit (pears are his favorite), vegetables, biscuits, and about 55 pounds of bamboo to keep him fed during his journey. In China, he will be fed essentially the same diet.

Did any of the National Zoo keepers accompany him?

The Zoo sent one of the keepers with whom Tai is familiar, along with one of our veterinarians.

When exactly did Tai go to China?

Tai Shan departed for China on the morning of February 4.

Do other zoos with pandas have to send their cubs to China?

Yes. The San Diego Zoo has had to send two pandas born there to China. The first one was sent at age four years and seven months, the second one was sent at age four and six months. One of them, Hua Mei, has given birth to seven cubs in China! A three-year-old panda from the Zoo Atlanta, Mei Lan, went on the plane with Tai Shan. The San Diego Zoo is preparing to send its young panda to China in approximately the same time frame.

Did the Zoo have a farewell event for Tai?

Yes, the Tai Shan Farewell Celebration was held on January 30.

How will Mei react to losing her son?

Tai Shan and Mei were separated two and half years ago and currently they do not have a "relationship." They show very little interest in each other when they see each other through yard windows. Tai is reaching adulthood, when there is minimal interest and no bond with his mother. The situation is the same with giant pandas living in the wild.

Tai only understands English. How will he understand his new keepers?

Language is not a barrier as food is the universal reinforcement. Giant pandas learn quickly with food as a motivator. The extensive training Tai has gotten (since his birth) from the Zoo's panda keepers and animal care staff, has set the stage for his overall management here and in China. This training, including choice of a clicker “bridge”—where the sound of a click reinforces to Tai that he is doing something right—has been so successful and succinct that it shows words are not the only way for keepers in China to work well with Tai Shan.

How will the panda keepers cope?

Tai has left an indelible mark on the entire Zoo community, from his keepers to the veterinarians to volunteers, who all played an integral role in his development and growth. His birth and subsequent four years of life here were a huge Zoo first, an accomplishment and joy for us all. There will certainly be a void at the Zoo with him gone, but we knew this day would arrive per the agreement with the Chinese. While we’re proud to send off a healthy panda to be part of China’s breeding program, we will indeed miss him dearly.

Will Mei and Tian breed in 2010?

For the second year in a row, the 2010 mating season began earlier than expected this year. Mei and Tian attempted to mate on January 9. Over the course of a few hours, Zoo staff carefully observed the pandas' activities and, because competent mating did not occur, Zoo scientists and veterinarians performed a nonsurgical artificial insemination later that evening and again the next morning.

Did the Zoo try to keep Tai Shan?

The National Zoo made several formal requests to the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA), our partner, to allow for Tai Shan to remain until next December 2010, the end of our first ten-year agreement with China. As we are planning to renegotiate having giant pandas at the National Zoo beyond 2010, we believed it was logical to propose that Tai stay here to continue our behavioral studies.

We knew from the outset that any panda cub would have to be sent to China at age two. We were lucky enough to have an extension for an extra two and half years. We must comply with our agreement no matter how much we’d like to have him stay at the Zoo. We have room for him to stay until another giant panda is born and weaned, or through the time that our new loan is negotiated. We would have loved to have him stay longer but we understood from the beginning that he would never live here permanently.

Further, Tai Shan will now be able to contribute to the successful breeding program in China. Since we partnered with them ten years ago, the Chinese have more than doubled their cub production, which means they’re about to reach the significant goal of having 300 pandas in captivity. By reaching the target of 300 pandas, collectively we will ensure that the giant panda in captivity is demographically and genetically secure. It will be a huge conservation achievement.

When scientists and conservationists conclude that the captive giant panda population is secure, efforts will start for a reintroduction program—one where captive-born pandas will be introduced into the wild. Although Tai Shan will never be released into the wild, there is the hope and possibility that his offspring could live in the wild.