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 they 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 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 cub, who died on September 23, 2012 as a result of liver damage caused by underdeveloped lungs.
On August 23, 2013, Mei Xiang gave birth to Bao Bao. Bao Bao returned to a breeding program in China on Feb. 21, 2017.
On August 24, 2013, Mei Xiang gave birth to a stillborn cub.
On August 22, 2015, Mei Xiang gave birth two cubs. On August 26, 2015 one of the two cubs died. The surviving cub is named Bei Bei.
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 Feb. 4, 2010.
Mei Xiang's second surviving cub, Bao Bao, also departed for China on Feb. 21, 2017.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
According to the most recent agreement, giant pandas will continue to live at the Zoo through the end of 2020. The breeding agreement signed by Zoo Director Dennis Kelly and Li Qingwen, deputy secretary general of the China Wildlife and Conservation Association (CWCA), took effect Dec. 7, 2015, and is through Dec. 7, 2020.
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, 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.
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 over a larger area in Asia. Its fur is reddish and it eats bamboo. Red pandas are not related to giant pandas.
Panda gestation length ranges from three to six months, or 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 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.
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.
For tour groups, please contact Guest Services at 202-633-4888.
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.
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