When I first became a giant panda keeper at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, I had to pinch myself. It was a childhood dream of mine to care for these incredible animals. I grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, and my family visited the Zoo’s first pair of pandas—Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing—often.
Today, my career has provided me the incredible honor of working with six giant pandas, including our almost 24-year-old male Tian Tian, 23-year-old female Mei Xiang, and their four cubs: male Tai Shan (born 2005), female Bao Bao (born 2013), male Bei Bei (born 2015) and our newest cub, male Xiao Qi Ji (born 2020). Because the International Union for Conservation of Nature considers giant pandas to be vulnerable to extinction, every cub born here is a win for conservation and a step toward saving the species.
Our giant pandas are at the top of many Zoo visitors’ “must see” list. It’s truly special to see them in person, since very few live outside of China. In fact, ours is one of only three zoos in the United States to exhibit these beloved bears.