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giant panda 50th anniversary seal

Giant pandas are icons in Washington, D.C., and beloved around the world. What's more, they represent how international collaboration and conservation science can save species.

April 16, 2022, marks the 50th anniversary of the arrival of giant pandas Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute — the start of a decades-long giant panda program. Join us in looking back at 50 years of giant panda joy and conservation and imagining what the next 50 years may bring.

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50th ‘Pandaversary’ Events

Discover the series of special events happening on-site at the Zoo and online from March through August in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the giant panda program.

A digital illustration of a giant panda eating bamboo with the Zoo Guardians logo, Smithsonian National Zoo logo, Giant Panda 50th Anniversary logo, and the text "Pandariffic Pack!"

FREE Zoo Guardians' Pandariffic Pack

Online

The Zoo's mobile game joins the StuPANDAous celebration! Bring the festivities to your phone and home when you download Zoo Guardians and their printable Pandariffic activities for free!

Pandariffic Pack

An ad for giant panda merchandise featuring a T-shirt, hat, and mug with the text "50th pandaversary collection; three bearthdays; a panda family fete" and a "Shop Now" button

Shop Panda Merch

Online through Aug. 31

See what’s in store for our pandas’ bearthdays! Shop our latest commemorative merch collection.

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Giant pandas Xiao Qi Ji (foreground) and Mei Xiang (background) celebrate Xiao Qi Ji's birthday with a panda-friendly fuitsicle cake.

Mei Xiang's Birthday Party

At the Zoo and Online | July 22 at 9 a.m.
All ages

Visit Asia Trail or tune into the Giant Panda Cam to see mother panda Mei Xiang celebrate with a special ice-cake. 

Panda Cam

Giant panda Xiao Qi Ji holds a heart made of frozen diluted apple juice.

Xiao Qi Ji's Birthday Party

At the Zoo and Online | Aug. 21 at 9 a.m.
All ages

Visit Asia Trail or tune into the Giant Panda Cam to see the Zoo's youngest panda celebrate with a special ice-cake. 

Panda Cam

Giant panda Tian Tian plays in the snow.

Tian Tian's Birthday Party

At the Zoo and Online | Aug. 27 at 9 a.m.
All ages

Visit Asia Trail or tune into the Giant Panda Cam to see the Zoo's favorite panda dad celebrate with a special ice-cake. 

Panda Cam

Panda Program Milestones 

From panda births to pioneering science, these photos showcase inspiring moments from the giant panda program since it began in 1972.

  • A black-and-white photo of giant pandas Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing from their arrival at the Smithsonian's National Zoo

    1972: Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing (shing-shing), the Zoo’s first pair of giant pandas, arrived from China in April as a gift to the American people to commemorate President Nixon’s historic visit to China.

  • President and Mrs. Nixon formally welcome giant pandas to the Smithsonian's National Zoo

    1972: First Lady Patricia Nixon at the Zoo April 20, 1972, for the official welcome ceremony for giant pandas Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, a gift from China to the American people. The panda pair first arrived at the Zoo Sunday, April 16, 1972. Photo courtesy of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library

  • Giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian stand together in a grassy yard at the Zoo

    2000: The Zoo’s second pair of giant pandas, Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) and Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN), arrived in Washington, D.C. Dec. 6.

  • Veterinarians examine a young giant panda cub on a table, one vet holds the cub while the other uses a stethoscope to listen to its vitals

    2005: Scientists and veterinarians artificially inseminated Mei Xiang March 11. She gave birth to the Zoo’s first surviving giant panda cub, Tai Shan, July 9, at 3:41 a.m.

  • Giant panda Tai Shan in a crate with hay and bamboo getting ready to depart the Zoo for China

    2010: Tai Shan, the only surviving giant panda cub born at the Zoo, left for Wolong Nature Reserve, China, Feb. 4, to participate in breeding research.

  • A veterinarian with gloved hands holds a newborn giant panda cub

    2013: A team of Smithsonian scientists, veterinarians and Chinese colleagues performed two artificial inseminations on Mei Xiang March 30. Mei Xiang gave birth to Bao Bao Aug. 23 at 5:32 p.m. (See a video of Bao Bao's birth).

  • A giant panda cub just starting to develop its fur and small claws is asleep on a table

    2015: Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated April 26 and 27. Mei Xiang gave birth to two male cubs Aug. 22, at 5:35 p.m. and 10:07 p.m. (See a video of the birth). The smaller of the two cubs died Aug. 26. On Sept. 25, 2015, the cub is named Bei Bei (BAY-BAY) which means “precious, treasure."

  • Giant panda Bao Bao rests on a rock outdoors and eats bamboo or sugarcane

    2017: Mei Xiang's second surviving cub, Bao Bao, departed for China on Feb. 21, 2017. The Zoo created a #ByeByeBaoBao celebration and special video as part of her farewell.

  • Giant panda Bei Bei sits inside a spacious crate in preparation for his departure to China

    2019: Mei Xiang's third surviving cub, Bei Bei, departed for China on Nov. 19, 2019. The Zoo created a #ByeByeBeiBei celebration and special video as part of his farewell.

  • 1 month old giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji asleep on a towel

    2020: Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated on March 22. She gave birth to a fourth surviving cub on Aug. 21, at 6:35 p.m. The cub is named Xiao Qi Ji (SHIAU-chi-ji) which means “Little Miracle” in Mandarin Chinese.

  • Giant panda Mei Xiang slides on her back down a snowy hill

    2021: On Jan. 31, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian were caught on the Panda Cam sliding and somersaulting in the freshly fallen snow. A video capturing the snow day frolic has been viewed more than 22 million times on the Zoo’s social media channels.

For a detailed timeline of giant panda care and conservation at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, visit the History of Giant Pandas at the Zoo page.

Conservation and Research

As few as 1,864 giant pandas live in their native habitat, while another 600 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world. For 50 years, the Zoo has celebrated these charismatic bears by creating and maintaining one of the world's foremost panda conservation programs. In that time, the Zoo's team — consisting of dozens of animal care staff, scientists, researchers, international collaborators and conservationists — has made great strides in saving this species from extinction by studying giant panda behavior, health, habitat and reproduction.

A camera trap photo of a giant panda; Mandarin Chinese text on the image in English is "Tsinghua University School of Environment, Shaanxi Guanyingshan Nature Reserve, Shaanxi Foping Nature Reserve, US National Zoological Park Conservation Ecology Center"

Ecology

Giant pandas’ native habitat is highly fragmented due to urban development and deforestation. This makes it difficult for the bears to find food and mates. Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute ecologists collaborate with scientists from the China Wildlife Conservation Association to expand panda habitat. Together, they identify key forest corridors and create bamboo restoration plots. They know these corridors are successfully linking panda populations by the fecal samples the bears leave behind.
 

Two scientists sit together at a desk with a microscope and other equipment and review data on a digital tablet

Disease

Increased interaction could bring about the increased risk of infectious diseases for giant pandas and for other species that share their habitats. To better understand panda health, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute veterinarians work with Chinese colleagues at the Wildlife Disease Control Center in Sichuan Province. Together, they use cutting-edge science to monitor and diagnose disease and age-related illness in pandas — all of which will help inform future biomedical studies on the species.

Scientists and students training in a forest in China

Training

Giant pandas bring colleagues from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and China together for a common goal: advancing global scientific knowledge of the species. Comprehensive workshops and hands-on training courses in medicine, surgery, anesthesia, imaging and field healthcare enable scientists to share expertise and build skills. The lessons learned from these collaborations can be used by future generations of animal care professionals, veterinarians and researchers to care for pandas in human care and in the wild.

Scientists and animal keepers artificially inseminate giant panda Mei Xiang

Reproduction

To ensure the future of the species, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute scientists have become experts in facilitating giant panda reproduction. Before breeding begins, scientists collect semen, freeze and defrost those samples successfully and decode the signals of behavior and biology that tell them the time is ripe for a pregnancy. Animal care experts pinpoint the behaviors that indicate a female is in estrus and ready to mate, while reproductive biologists conduct artificial inseminations safely and swiftly.

Conservation Collaboration to Save the Giant Panda

Scientists and students pose together
Collaboration has been the cornerstone of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute’s work on giant panda conservation and care for almost five decades. Working with Chinese colleagues at state forestry agencies, giant panda reserves, non-governmental organizations, universities and breeding centers has enabled the Smithsonian to make scientific advances that support giant panda care and conservation, not just in Washington D.C. and China, but around the world. Together, Smithsonian animal care experts and scientists and Chinese colleagues have set new standards in the fields of giant panda biology, behavior, breeding, and reproduction and training the next generation of skilled research and care professionals to ensure that giant pandas continue to thrive.

Caring for Giant Pandas 

From meal prep to health check-ups and daily enrichment, teams across the Zoo come together each day to care for giant pandas.

A giant panda lies down inside a training chute as three veterinarians conduct an ultrasound and view the images on a nearby computer

Training and Veterinary Care

Animal care staff build trust with the Zoo’s giant pandas through positive reinforcement training. This enables the bears to voluntarily participate in their own health care. Keepers and veterinarians examine the pandas, administer medications and conduct medical procedures while they are awake, lessening the need for anesthesia. When the pandas do the behaviors asked of them, they receive verbal praise and a favorite treat, such as honey water.

A giant panda laying on its back holds an enrichment toy up to its mouth

Enrichment

Every day, the Zoo’s giant pandas receive a variety of enrichment items and activities, which help them keep physically active and mentally sharp. They also encourage the bears to use their natural behaviors. Enrichment can be anything from sensory experiences (spices for scent-anointing or bubbles for popping) to physical objects and toys (puzzle feeders), to social interactions (painting with keepers) and environmental stimuli (exploring a different habitat).

Members of the Zoo's giant panda team pose together for a photo on an exhibit pathway

Giant Panda Team

The giant panda team takes care of the Zoo’s giant pandas every day—including weekends, holidays and during bad weather. Their daily duties include monitoring the bears’ behavior, preparing their diets, readying their enrichment, conducting training sessions, collecting urine and fecal samples for scientists to study and cleaning their habitats. Keepers log details about each panda’s activities in their daily reports to track their health and activity trends.

A giant panda cub stands on a rock formation and tastes bamboo leaves

Nutrition

Working with local landowners, the Zoo’s Department of Nutrition Science team harvests the giant pandas’ favorite food — bamboo — from 20 stands across Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Depending on the time of year, the pandas may eat the shoots, culm (stalk) or leaves. The bears also receive apples, sweet potatoes, high-fiber biscuits and honey water inside enrichment puzzle feeders or during positive reinforcement training sessions.

Latest Giant Panda Stories

Visit the giant panda news archive for more panda stories.

Panda Family Tree

A giant panda "family tree" showing the parents and offspring of the Smithsonian's National Zoo's Giant Panda Family

Where Are They Now? 

As part of a cooperative breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, all cubs born at the Smithsonian's National Zoo move to China when they are 4 years old. Mei Xiang's cubs Tai Shan, Bao Bao and Bei Bei are thriving in China. Tai Shan and Bao Bao have even welcomed cubs of their own! Catch up with each of the giant pandas below.

Giant panda Tai Shan eating bamboo

Tai Shan 泰山

Photo courtesy of Li Chuanyou

  • Name means “peaceful mountain” in Mandarin Chinese
  • Born July 9, 2005 at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
  • Departed for China Feb. 4, 2010
  • Currently lives at the Shengshuping Campus in Wolong, Sichuan, China
  • Has sired one cub, an unnamed male born Aug. 19, 2020

A giant panda sits in a grassy yard holding a piece of bamboo in her paw

Bao Bao 宝宝

Photo courtesy of Li Chuanyou

  • Name means “precious treasure” in Mandarin Chinese
  • Born Aug. 23, 2013, at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
  • Departed for China Feb. 21, 2017
  • Currently lives at the Shengshuping Campus in Wolong, Sichuan, China
  • Has given birth to three cubs — a female born Jul. 29, 2020, and twin males born Aug. 4, 2021

Giant panda Bei Bei standing in an area with green grass and shrubs

Bei Bei 贝贝

Photo courtesy of Li Chuanyou

  • Name means “precious, treasure” in Mandarin Chinese
  • Born Aug. 22, 2015, at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
  • Departed for China Nov. 19, 2019
  • Currently lives at Bifengxia Campus in Ya’an, Sichuan, China

Bao Bao's Cubs

A giant panda cub sits in a tub near a pile of bamboo and cradles her very young cub

Photo courtesy of Li Chuanyou

A giant panda lays on a tile floor with her very young cub

Photo courtesy of Li Chuanyou

A panda cub rests on a log

Photo courtesy of Li Chuanyou

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An ad for giant panda merchandise featuring a T-shirt, hat, and mug with the text "50th pandaversary collection; three bearthdays; a panda family fete" and a "Shop Now" button

Who’s black, white and ready to paw-ty? Join the bearthday fête for our beloved giant panda family! Shop our latest commemorative merch collection now through Aug. 31, 2022.

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Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji hanging upside down from his outdoor play structure.

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Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji resting on branches of a tree he's climbed in the panda yard

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