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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

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 4:30 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.

On high visitation days, 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.

Bao Bao

November 25

This update was written by keeper Nicole MacCorkle.

We’ve noticed Mei Xiang and Bao Bao are spending increasing amounts of time apart from each other, and Mei is permitting Bao Bao to nurse less often. Sometimes, they even sleep in separate enclosures, a sign that they are beginning the separation process themselves. By definition, weaning begins once a baby, of any mammal species, is introduced to solid foods and is complete when milk is no longer being consumed. Giant pandas begin to eat solids around 6 months of age. Since July, Bao Bao has been receiving her own daily diet of leaf eater biscuits, apple, carrot and cooked sweet potato, in addition to Mei Xiang’s milk and the bamboo she eats from Mei’s daily diet.

Before July, she was sampling bamboo, produce, biscuits, and even mini fruitsicles. At over 14 months old and nearly 60 pounds, Bao Bao seems much more independent than her older brother Tai Shan did at this age, so we expect the separation to be even easier with her. When Tai Shan was weaned at 19 months of age, Mei Xiang made it clear, through her behavior and vocalizations, that it was time for him to separate. At times, Tai Shan seemed a bit unsure of his new solitary lifestyle, but he transitioned smoothly and quickly, and we expect it to be the same for Bao Bao. Like any giant panda cub, weaning is just another milestone for Bao Bao, and we know she will do just fine!

Watch the premiere episode of the Smithsonian Channel's Wild Inside the National Zoo. 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.