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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's Birthday

August 23

The National Zoo and the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China celebrated giant panda cub Bao Bao’s first birthday this morning with a Zhuazhou (dra-JO) ceremony. During a traditional Zhuazhou ceremony, symbolic objects are placed in front of a baby. The item that the baby reaches for first foretells something about his or her future. The Zhuazhou for Bao Bao was slightly modified for a panda cub. Three posters with symbols painted on them were placed in Bao Bao’s yard. Each poster had a different image, painted by students from the Sunshine School, affiliated with the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China and Friends of the National Zoo summer campers. Ambassador Cui Tiankai, Dennis Kelly, director of the National Zoo, and Brandie Smith, senior curator of mammals placed small honey treats (a new favorite treat of Bao Bao’s) under the posters. One poster had peaches painted on it; in China peaches are a symbol of longevity. The second poster had bamboo painted on it, representing good health for the panda cub. The final poster had pomegranates painted on it; in China pomegranates are a symbol of fertility. Bao Bao chose the peaches first, which means she will live a long life as an ambassador for panda conservation. She then played with the poster with bamboo painted on it and finally the pomegranate poster. After she had played with all three posters she climbed up her favorite hemlock tree.

"This has been such a fast year,” said Kelly. “I remember feeling like an anxious father-to-be while waiting see if Mei Xiang was pregnant. Today, we are celebrating one of our biggest conservation successes. It’s been amazing for us, our members and all of Washington, D.C., to watch Bao Bao thrive and grow. She is so much more than just a beautiful 44-pound cub. She represents decades of collaboration between American and Chinese scientists."

A public celebration will begin at 11 a.m. and started with a special panda-keeper talk about Bao Bao and panda conservation. At 11:30 a.m., Bao Bao will receive a special birthday cake. The tiered cake was made by the Zoo’s nutrition department. The tiers are made of frozen diluted apple juice and were dyed varying shades of pink using beet juice; frozen between the tiers were apple and pear slices, some of the pandas’ favorite foods. The cake was decorated with flower appliques carved from carrots and sweet potatoes. In lieu of icing on the cake, a large number “1” carved from frozen diluted apple juice sat atop it. The celebration will conclude with an extra panda-keeper talk at 1:30 p.m. Guests and panda fans are encouraged to tweet their birthday wishes for Bao Bao today and support panda conservation using #BaoBaoBday.

Guests enjoyed dandan (dahn-dahn) noodles courtesy of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China. The cold noodles are a dish from Sichuan Province. The China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong, where Mei Xiang and Tian Tian were born and where Bao Bao will live after she goes to China when she turns 4, is located in Sichuan.

Bao Bao’s birth one year ago was a significant conservation success for the National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, which has been studying giant pandas for 42 years. She was born as the result of a precisely timed artificial insemination performed by the panda team at the Zoo, which included Zoo scientists, veterinarians and keepers, and scientists from the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. When Bao Bao is four years old she will travel to China and enter the breeding program for giant pandas.

Bao Bao’s birth one year ago was a significant conservation success for the National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, which has been studying giant pandas for 42 years. She was born as the result of a precisely timed artificial insemination performed by the panda team at the Zoo, which included Zoo scientists, veterinarians and keepers, and scientists from the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. When Bao Bao is 4 she will travel to China and enter the breeding program for giant pandas.

Celebrate Bao Bao's birthday by tweeting a birthday wish in support of panda conservation using #BaoBaoBday. Also recap the last year with 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 and share it with #BaoBaoBday!

Read previous panda updates.