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The Giant Panda Conservation Fund helps the National Zoo help save giant pandas from extinction by bringing Tian Tian and Mei Xiang to the Zoo, creating a new state-of-the-art exhibit for them, and financing a variety of research projects and other important activities in China and the United States.

While the giant panda still faces threats to its survival in the wild—division of panda habitat into fragmented “islands,” risk of starvation from bamboo die-offs, and loss of genetic diversity from inbreeding—there are clear reasons for hope for its future. Some positive signs:

  • Significant resources flowing into China each year are earmarked for habitat conservation
  • A logging ban in place since 1998 protects most panda habitat from commercial operations
  • The Chinese are aggressively fostering the reforestation of marginal agricultural land, thereby creating panda habitat
  • Scientists in China and the United States have made notable progress in captive breeding

Nevertheless, there remains much to do, and much to learn about the “bamboo bear.”

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pandas in the snow
A population of giant pandas in zoos acts as an insurance policy against extinction and an accessible group of animals for study, education, and possibly future reintroductions into the wild.

The National Zoo was home to a panda pair, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, from 1972 to 1999. For more than 25 years, National Zoo scientists studied giant pandas, amassing an unparalleled body of information about their biology and behavior. They also developed an extensive network of relationships with their Chinese counterparts, working together to ensure the giant panda a future.

Building on this experience, the Zoo and FONZ launched an initiative in 1998 to acquire a second pair of giant pandas to continue research efforts, including collaborative work with other zoos to develop a viable captive population. In the same year, the Giant Panda Conservation Fund was established to bring new pandas to the Zoo, create a new state-of-the-art exhibit for them, and finance a wide array of research projects geared to save the species from extinction. As an interim step toward a new habitat, the original giant panda exhibit was renovated to accommodate the late-2000 arrival of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. In 2006, their new exhibit—the Giant Panda Habitat—was completed.

Wolong Nature Reserve in China
After years of habitat loss, there are reasons for hope that important panda habitat can be saved and expanded. Joining isolated fragments remains a challenge.

The Giant Panda Conservation Fund has played a key role in financing the design of the 2000 exhibit renovation, travel by American and Chinese staff in preparation for the arrival of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian in Washington, camera and sound systems, graphics, and educational materials related to the giant panda.

However, one of the most important uses of the Fund is financing giant panda research in China and the United States. Since 2000 these research projects have included a wide range of activities, including training and monitoring systems with two basic thrusts:

  • increasing the capacity of Chinese partners to protect habitat, the giant panda, and other species; and
  • maintaining a healthy, viable population of giant pandas in zoos to support those in the wild.

Diverse research includes studies of panda endocrinology, reproductive biology, nutrition, exposure to infectious diseases, and environmental education in communities within panda reserves. The fund also enables important training courses on such topics as remote sensing and geographic information systems of China’s giant panda habitat, clinical diagnostics of panda diseases, and behavioral enrichment.

The Zoo's veterinary staff drawing blood from the Zoo's female giant panda, Mei Xiang. A keeper rewards her cooperative behavior with treats such as apples and pears.

Photos by Jessie Cohen and Nicole Popovich