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News from the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat

Giant pandas are black and white bears that live in temperate-zone bamboo forests in central China. Among the best recognized—but rarest—animals in the world, they have come to symbolize endangered species and conservation efforts. As few as 1,600 giant pandas survive in the mountain forests of central China. More than 300 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world; most of these pandas are in China.

Giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are at the National Zoo under a Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement, signed in January 2011, between the Zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. This extends the Zoo’s giant panda program through 2015. Mei and Tian are the focus of an ambitious research, conservation, and breeding program designed to preserve this endangered species.

Seeing Pandas at the Zoo

Giant panda cub Bao Bao is now on exhibit! Bao Bao is now spending much of her time in the trees of her outdoor exhibit where she can sometimes be difficult to see. Sharp eyes will spot her.

  • The panda house at the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Please arrive early. Long lines require earlier cut-off times to ensure those waiting can enter the panda house before it closes. If crowds are heavy, the line may close as early as 4 p.m.
  • Flash photography and video are welcome, but please refrain from setting up tripods, or other stationary equipment.

Visitors will be allowed into the panda house on a first-come-first-served basis.

Due to the expected number of visitors to see Bao Bao, Asia Trail will be open to one-way traffic only. Visitors will enter Asia Trail at the sloth bear exhibit, near the Connecticut Avenue pedestrian entrance. Those visiting Bao Bao will be asked to line up outside the giant panda house in front of the panda yards. For the safety of our guests, animals, and staff, visitors will be allowed into the panda house in small groups to avoid overcrowding.

Visitors will enter the panda house from the west entrance, by the red panda exhibit, and exit the east entrance. After leaving the panda house, visitors will exit Asia Trail near Panda Plaza.

Although the panda house will be open from 10 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Mei Xiang and Bao Bao may not always be visible during that time. They will have access to the den where Bao Bao has spent much of the past few months and may choose to spend time in there instead of on exhibit.

Bao Bao

September 26

This update was written by Keeper Nicole MacCorkle.

Bao Bao has been introduced to the training cage! This is an important developmental step because this is where the animal care team conduct husbandry behaviors such as measuring blood pressure, drawing blood, taking radiographs, and even routine vaccinations. In addition to perfecting behaviors like shifting on and off exhibit, targeting training, and getting onto the scale to be weighed, Bao Bao will soon learn more intricate behaviors which her parents have already mastered. As with any training, for any of our bears, we are working at Bao Bao’s pace. Her comfort level is our first priority. Right now, keepers reward her with some of her favorite treats (like dilute honey and apple juice!) when she enters the training chute. Overall, everyone is happy with her progress.

The panda house is starting to settle in for autumn! An earlier sunset also means lights out for the pandas. Within a few weeks the panda house will close (as will all the other Zoo buildings) at 4:30 p.m. Following the natural light cycle and making the building quiet every day by the time the sun sets will help ensure Mei Xiang has a normal estrus cycle in 2015. Although we’re making these changes in preparation for the next breeding season, it’s still quite far off. Bao Bao will likely nurse and live with Mei Xiang for several more months. Starting Oct. 1, the panda cams will not be operated by our dedicated volunteers after 4 p.m. The cams will be set to a wide angle every afternoon (so the pandas will still be visible if they choose to move around), and remain that way until behavior watchers return the next morning at 7 a.m. The infared cameras and cameras capable of recording in low lighting in the panda house do not focus well in the dark unless there is someone operating them. As a result, the images may not be as crisp as they are during the day.

Watch the premiere webisode of the Smithsonian Channel's Wild Inside. The video chronicles Bao Bao's first year and provides a peek at life at the panda habitat. Watch the webisode!

Read previous panda updates.