Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Have questions? Here are answers. If the answer to your question is not below, try the page on Panda Facts. Questions about Mei Xiang and the new cub born August 22, 2015 are answered on the Mom and Cub FAQ page.

Please look through the answers below before you email us your question about giant pandas. We do not answer questions that are already answered on the site.

Please note: We have no additional information to send you.

When and why did the National Zoo bring giant pandas back to Washington?

The Zoo's two adult giant pandas arrived on December 6, 2000. Ever since the National Zoo received Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling from China in 1972 as part of President Nixon's historic visit, scientists here have been leaders in the field of giant panda biology and conservation. The Zoo is continuing that leadership through research involving the new pandas and research in China that will help save giant pandas in the wild. Furthermore, giant pandas can inspire visitors to care for wildlife and threatened ecosystems around the world. They are ambassadors for conservation.

What are their names?

Mei Xiang (may SHONG), the female, means "beautiful fragrance" in Chinese. Tian Tian (t-YEN t-YEN), the male, means "more and more." Their male cub, born on July 9, 2005, was named Tai Shan (tie SHON) by a public vote. His name means "peaceful mountain." He left the Zoo for China on February 4, 2010. Mei Xiang gave birth to another cub on August 23, 2013.more

How old are the pandas, and how much do they weigh?

Mei Xiang was born on July 22, 1998, and Tian Tian was born on August 27, 1997. Mei Xiang weighs about 233 pounds, and Tian Tian weighs about 264 pounds. Adult female pandas usually reach 220 pounds, and adult males 250 pounds.

Their first offspring, Tai Shan, weighed 184 pounds in February 2010. He left the Zoo for China on February 4, 2010. Their second surviving cub weighed 4.8 ounces at her first neonatal health check on August 25, 2013.

How do the pandas handle the Washington weather?

Giant pandas are adapted to living in high-altitude forests in the mountains of central China, and so they can easily deal with the wintry weather of Washington. However, the heat and humidity of the summers here are more difficult for them. Therefore, the Zoo has installed air-conditioned grottos and misting sprays in their renovated outdoor enclosure so the pandas can stay outside all summer long, if they choose to.

Have they had any offspring?

The National Zoo is a world leader at breeding endangered species. Our giant pandas are part of a breeding program that carefully matches potential giant panda parents in order to keep the population genetically healthy well into the future. On July 9, 2005, Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub. On October 17, when he was 100 days old, he was named Tai Shan by a vote open to the public. More than 200,000 votes were cast. He left the Zoo for China on February 4, 2010.

On September 16, 2012, Mei Xiang gave birth to a second cub, who died six days later on September 23, 2012 as a result of liver and lung damage.

On August 23, 2013, Mei Xiang gave birth to a female cub. On August 24, 2013, Mei Xiang gave birth to a stillborn cub.

What will happen with any offspring?

Any baby born to Mei Xiang and Tian Tian belongs to China, and the Zoo will send the offspring to China at about age four so that it can become part of the breeding population there.

In December 2009, the Zoo announced that Tai Shan would be sent to China in early 2010, per the Zoo's agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association. He left the Zoo for China on February 4, 2010.

What do they eat?

In the wild, giant pandas eat bamboo almost exclusively. Here at the Zoo, they are fed bamboo as well as highly nutritious biscuits and carrots and apples. They are each being fed more than 50 pounds of bamboo a day—about ten times more food than an average person consumes. They need all that bamboo because bamboo, which is a grass, contains very few nutrients.

Where do you get your bamboo?

Most of the bamboo the pandas eat is grown on a farm in southern Maryland.

Can I donate bamboo?

Thanks for offering, but we don't accept bamboo donations. You can support the Zoo's panda conservation efforts by donating online. Donate now.

Do keepers go in the enclosures with the pandas?

No. Like any bear, giant pandas are very strong and potentially dangerous, so staff never go in an enclosure with them.

How long will Mei and Tian be at the National Zoo?

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian belong to China and came to the Zoo in 2000 for ten years as part of a research, conservation and breeding program. On January 20, 2011, a new agreement was signed (effective through December 5, 2015), stipulating that the Zoo will conduct research in the areas of breeding and cub behavior. The first two years of the agreement include a cooperative study involving reproductive experts from the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong, China, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute; they will oversee the breeding of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian.

What is the status of giant pandas in the wild, and where do they live?

Giant pandas are an endangered species. They are difficult to census in the wild, but scientists believe there are about 1,600 remaining in the wild. These individuals live in scattered populations in central China, mostly in Sichuan Province, but also in Gansu and Shaanxi Provinces. Giant pandas specialize in eating bamboo, and so if the temperate bamboo forests in the mountains of central China continue to be cut down, there will be no room for giant pandas in the wild. This is why it is so crucial to support conservation research in China, and why we need to have a population of giant pandas in zoos as an insurance policy against extinction.

What is a giant panda? Is a giant panda a bear or a raccoon?

The giant panda is a member of the bear family, which scientists call the Ursidae. Among the bears, it is most closely related to the spectacled bear of South America. Scientists no longer believe that giant pandas are more like raccoons than bears. Also, giant pandas are not marsupials (pouched mammals).

What is a red panda? What is a lesser panda?

The red panda, sometimes called the lesser panda, is a raccoon-sized mammal that lives in the same kind of habitat as giant pandas but over a larger area in Asia. Its fur is reddish and it eats bamboo. Scientists aren't sure what the red pandas' nearest relatives are. Some say raccoons and other species in the family Procyonidae; others say bears in the family Ursidae.

How long is the gestation period of a panda?

Panda gestation length ranges from three to five months, or 90 to 160 days, with an average pregnancy lasting 135 days. This wide variation in gestation occurs because the fertilized panda egg usually floats free in the mother's uterus before it implants and begins developing. Once the embryo is attached to the uterine wall, its development continues until a panda is born; newborn pandas are blind, very small and without almost any fur. A newborn panda is about three to five ounces. In American black bears, the actual period of time the embryo is developing after implantation is about eight weeks. Pandas' actual development time is probably similar. Much of a panda's physical development occurs after birth.

What sounds do giant pandas make?

Pandas vocalize extensively in social interactions. They "chirp" during mating and "honk" in distress. A "bleat" (a twittering goat sound) is a friendly contact call. A "chomp" (a rapid opening and closing of the mouth so the teeth audibly meet) is a mild defensive threat. A "bark" is used to scare an enemy. A squeal indicates submission or pain.

I want to visit. Tell me all the details.

Our website has plenty of information about visiting the Zoo, including hours, parking, transportation, driving instructions, and more. Admission to the Zoo is FREE.

How can people outside the Washington area see the pandas?

If you can't see our pandas in person, the easiest thing to do is click on the panda web cams. You can see live, streaming video of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian 24 hours a day. But we also hope people from out of town can visit Washington, D.C., and stop by sometime!

How can I arrange to bring a tour or school group to the Zoo to see the pandas?

For tour groups, please contact Guest Services at 202.633.4480. For school groups and information about education programs, please call 202.633.4455.

How can I volunteer to work with pandas at the Zoo?

Many people volunteer at the Zoo. For complete information, including whom to contact, read about volunteering with FONZ and the Zoo.

I have to write a school report on pandas. Can you help?

You will find all the information you need for your report on pandas on the Internet. Start with Giant Panda Facts then surf around the other giant panda pages on our website.

Can you send information and activities on giant pandas?

All our information on giant pandas is located on this website. We have no additional information to send you.

How can I arrange to bring a tour or school group to the Zoo to see the pandas?

For tour groups, please contact Guest Services at 202.633.4480. For school groups and information about education programs, please call 202.633.4455.

How do I send a panda e-card?

Just go here to send a panda e-card.

Why aren't the Panda Cams working?

First, make sure you have Windows Media Player (available for free from the Microsoft website) correctly installed on your computer. If the cams are still not working, it could be that they are temporarily down for repairs or adjustments. Or, too many people may be trying to view the cams at one time. In either case, check back in a little while.