Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Mei Xiang and Tai Shan

David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat

At the new David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat, two new yards feature several enriching features for both animal and visitor enjoyment and add more than 12,000 square feet to the pandas' outdoor exhibit. Additions to the indoor exhibit include a new room with a rocky outcrop and waterfall, another den, and more visitor viewing space and informational exhibits.

Many sustainable design strategies, such as planted green roofs to reduce stormwater runoff, were incorporated into the new habitat. Other elements include a solar hot water system; natural tree-resin bound paving material, instead of petroleum-based asphalt, on the visitor paths; recycled rubber; sustainably harvested ipe wood, which is naturally resistant to pests and rot; and dried bamboo, because it is rapidly renewable resource and does not deplete the environment when harvested. more Asia Trail green elements

Outdoor Exhibit

The pandas' state-of-the-art David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat is designed to mimic the pandas' natural habitat of rocky, lush terrain in China. Each element has a purpose—from helping the pandas stay cool in hot weather to giving them a place to hide when they need privacy. There are rock and tree structures perfect for climbing; grottoes, pools, and streams for keeping cool; and shrubs and trees, including weeping willows, corktrees, and maples, and several species of bamboo.

  1. Water-cooled grotto has cold-water pipes in the walls that provide a cool respite.
  2. Low trees and shrubs provide shade and cover.
  3. Fog grove creates a misty retreat from the heat.
  1. Pools and streams offer refreshing dips on hot days.
  2. Rocks and fallen trees allow for climbing and exercise.

Visitors can enjoy two levels from which to view the pandas, several areas where they may be just inches away from the bears, separated only by glass, and the new Clint Fields Conservation Plaza, where they can learn more about efforts to save pandas and their habitat through the stories of real people here and in China. At the Plaza's Decision Stations, people can get a sense of the complexity of conservation choices by watching videos about wildlife-people dilemmas and deciding which actions to take. Other features at the Plaza include a topographic map of the mountains of central China and exhibits about alternative economic activities to reduce habitat destruction. Portraits of villagers, scientists, park rangers, and others, with the real tools of their conservation work, will be highlighted. Multimedia displays of photos, video, and audio will give visitors a sense of place, introducing them to the sights and sounds of China's wilds.

Experience Zone

The Giant Panda Experience Zone enables visitors to try out the cool features of the panda yards firsthand. They can share a cool rock with a panda, nestle in their own panda grotto that simulate the steep slopes of Sichuan, and walk under the same foggers that help keep the pandas cool on hot summer days. This area also allows visitors to get up close to examine the pandas themselves, with only a glass barrier between visitors and animals. The Zoo hopes that this up-close perspective will help our visitors make an emotional connection to Tai Shan, Mei Xiang, and Tian Tian, and feel more strongly about the need to save pandas in their natural habitat.

Indoor Exhibit

The indoor part of the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat now contains four exhibit rooms, four dens, increased visitor viewing space, new informational exhibits, additional space for keepers, and a humidified storage building for fresh bamboo, complete with windows for visitors to see just how much bamboo the pandas consume in a day.

Research Center

The indoor panda enclosures are home to a brand-new exhibition of National Zoo panda science. A timeline describes the history of giant pandas and panda research at the Zoo, followed by a description of the panda's lifecycle. Understanding panda biology will give visitors a window into the cutting-edge research that our scientists do: learning about panda reproduction and improving their odds through artificial insemination; strengthening the pandas' bodies and minds with challenging enrichment; capacity building in China through workshops at the panda reserves; and behavioral observation and analysis through our in-house observation post. High-tech exhibits will let visitors play the Panda Mating Game, learn about panda medicine, and hear from panda keepers about the challenges of their job.

You May Be on Camera!

Zoo scientists have installed a behavioral observation system to support their research on our giant pandas. The video and audio monitoring devices used for the giant pandas also cover the public viewing area.

As a result, while you are in the vicinity of the giant pandas, you may be recorded on video and/or audio recorders and your image and/or voice may be broadcast on the Internet. link arrowPanda Cam

Note: From April 1 through June 15, a very large number of school buses full of children arrive at the Zoo between 10 a.m. and noon. For a more enjoyable, quieter experience, we recommend that you visit early in the day, between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., or later in the afternoon, after 2 p.m. Tian Tian is generally more active at these times, too, and lines to see him are most likely to be non-existent or short. For tour bus groups, we offer special programs early and late in the day.

Research in Action at the National Zoo

A Learning Exhibit

The David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat, with its naturalistic setting, helps us keep the giant pandas healthy and active, but it’s also part of our research. Decisions about many features in the new exhibit were based on our observations of our pandas' preferences. We sought answers to questions such as:

  • Do the giant pandas spend hot days in those cooled dens?
  • Do they prefer to be in trees or on the ground?