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Giant Panda FAQs

The Smithsonian's National Zoo's two adult giant pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, arrived on December 6, 2000. Ever since the 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.

Giant pandas are adapted to living in high-altitude forests in the mountains of central China, and so can easily deal with the wintry weather of Washington, D.C. 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.

The Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute is a world leader at breeding giant pandas. The Zoo's 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 Oct. 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 Feb. 4, 2010.

On Sept. 16, 2012, Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub, who died on Sept. 23, 2012, as a result of liver damage caused by underdeveloped lungs.

On Aug. 23, 2013, Mei Xiang gave birth to a female cub named Bao Bao. Bao Bao returned to a breeding program in China Feb. 21, 2017.

On Aug. 24, 2013, Mei Xiang gave birth to a stillborn cub.

On Aug. 22, 2015, Mei Xiang gave birth to two cubs. On Aug. 26, 2015, one of the two cubs died. The surviving male cub is named Bei Bei. Bei Bei departed for China Nov. 19, 2019.

On Aug. 21, 2020, Mei Xiang gave birth to a male cub named Xiao Qi Ji.

Any baby born to Mei Xiang and Tian Tian belongs to China, and the Zoo will send the offspring to China at about age 4, so 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 Feb. 4, 2010. 

Mei Xiang's second surviving cub, Bao Bao, departed for China Feb. 21, 2017, and her third surviving cub, Bei Bei, departed for China Nov. 19, 2019.

In the wild, giant pandas almost exclusively eat bamboo. Here at the Zoo, they are fed bamboo, as well as highly nutritious biscuits, carrots and apples.

The Zoo's Department of Nutrition grows bamboo at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. It also cuts bamboo from 15 stands located in the greater Washington, D.C., area.

Thanks for offering, but the Zoo does not accept bamboo donations. Please support the Zoo's panda conservation efforts by donating online. Donate now.

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

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian belong to China and came to the Zoo in 2000 for 10 years as part of a research, conservation and breeding program. On Jan. 20, 2011, a new agreement was signed (effective through Dec. 5, 2015), stipulating that the Zoo will conduct research in the areas of breeding and cub behavior. The first two years of the agreement included 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.

In 2015, Dennis Kelly, director of the Smithsonian's National Zoo, and Li Qingwen, deputy secretary general of the China Wildlife and Conservation Association (CWCA), signed a new Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement effective through Dec. 7, 2020. The terms of the agreement were exactly the same as the previous one, stipulating that the Smithsonian's National Zoo and CWCA would conduct cooperative research projects, the Zoo would pay $500,000 per year to support conservation efforts in China, and any cubs born at the Zoo may stay until the age of 4. Both parents and any offspring remained under the ownership of China.

In December 2020, the Zoo announced that giant pandas would continue to live at the Smithsonian's National Zoo through the end of 2023. The three-year agreement extension signed by Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and China Wildlife and Conservation Association (CWCA) is effective through Dec. 7, 2023.

Giant pandas are a vulnerable species. They are difficult to census in the wild, but scientists believe there are about 1,864 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, 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 there needs to be a population of giant pandas in zoos as an insurance policy against extinction.

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.

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 ranges over a larger area in Asia. Its fur is a reddish color, and it eats bamboo. Red pandas are not related to giant pandas.

Panda gestation length ranges from 90 to 180 days, with an average pregnancy lasting 135 days. This wide variation in gestation occurs because the fertilized egg usually floats freely 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 weighs about 3 to 5 ounces. In American black bears, the actual period of time that the embryo develops following implantation is about eight weeks. For pandas, actual development time is probably similar. Much of a panda's physical development occurs after birth.

Pandas are solitary animals, but they vocalize extensively during 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.

The Smithsonian's National Zoo's website has plenty of information about visiting the Zoo, including hours, parking, transportation, driving instructions and more. Admission to the Zoo is FREE.

Visitors are able to visit the pandas virtually through the Zoo's Panda Cam. The cams offer live, streaming video of the pandas.

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

Students are encouraged to look through the giant panda page to find answers to their report questions.

All of the Smithsonian's National Zoo's information on giant pandas is located on this website. The Zoo has no additional information to send.

If the cams are 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.