News from the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat

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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.

July 23

We celebrated Mei Xiang's birthday yesterday at the panda habitat. She turned 16 and received a special frozen treat for some extra enrichment. The next birthday we'll be celebrating is Bao Bao's! She's turning 1 year old in 31 days.

Bao Bao is an ambassador for her species. Her birth represents decades of cooperation between scientists in China and the United States. In the 42 years since Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing first arrived at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, scientists have learned much about giant panda reproduction. Their successes are represented by the more than 350 giant pandas now live in zoos and research centers around the world. And Chinese scientists are preparing to begin reintroducing pandas born in human care to the wild.

Bao Bao was born as the result of a precisely-timed artificial insemination performed by scientists from the Conservation Biology Institute and from China. SCBI scientists had tracked Mei Xiang's rising hormones, and keepers monitored her behavior to pin-point the short 48-hour window when she was in estrus. Thanks to giant panda biology, the next five months were a waiting game. Female giant pandas' behavior and hormones mimic a pregnancy even if they are not pregnant. But on August 23, 2013 after 16 days of 24-hour behavior watches the panda team learned that they had been successful when they saw Mei Xiang give birth to a tiny squawking cub.

We're asking all of our panda fans to help us celebrate giant panda conservation in honor of Bao Bao's birthday on twitter! Tweet a message about what Bao Bao represents for conservation and wish her a happy birthday using #BaoBaoBday. We'll also be sharing clips from the panda cam vaults and new photos of Bao Bao leading up to her birthday. So follow us @NationalZoo and use #BaoBaoBday!

Read previous panda updates.