Extraordinary Grief and a Tiny Little Bear

Submitted by Liz H. of Washington, D.C.

My brother suddenly passed away in December 2005. A couple days after returning from his funeral, I remembered I had timed tickets to see Tai Shan. It was the furthest thing from my mind and I really wasn't up to it. Fortunately, my friend convinced me to go. From the moment I laid eyes on him playing in his big black bucket, my spirit changed. Suddenly my heart was full of awe, gratitude and joy. It was the happiest I had been in some time. 

Many more visits ensued and when the pandas were finally let outside, I met the most wonderful FONZ volunteer. We chatted and I asked many questions about volunteering at the zoo. It didn't take long for me to apply and I spent many wonderful years at the Smithsonian's National Zoo greeting visitors, forming lasting relationships with other volunteers, staff and keepers, and learning every day how important wildlife conservation is to all of us. And it all started with extraordinary grief and a tiny little bear named Tai Shan.

Image credit: Smithsonian

The Panda Memories Project

In September 2023, the Zoo invited members of the public to share their favorite moments with Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, Xiao Qi Ji and the rest of the pandas that have called Washington D.C., home. Here are their stories.