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Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute Receives $4.5 Million to Continue Giant Panda Program

David M. Rubenstein has pledged a second $4.5 million gift to the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, funding its giant panda research and conservation program through the end of 2020. The gift will support conservation efforts in China, research on giant panda reproduction, professional training programs, upgrades to the giant panda habitat at the National Zoo, care for the pandas living at the National Zoo and continue public education about the species and conservation.

In total, Rubenstein has donated $9 million to support the Zoo's panda program since 2011 and an additional $2 million in 2013 to support Asian elephant research.

In recognition of his original gift for the pandas, the giant panda habitat was named the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat. Conservation biologists, awarded Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) fellowships for studying pandas in the U.S. and China, were named David M. Rubenstein fellows." The giant panda habitat will keep his name as will the new science fellows.

"David's transformative gift is making a difference at our Zoo in our nation's capital and across the world in China," said Smithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton. "He understands how crucially important it is to our planet, and everyone on it, to improve the sustainability of species diversity. We greatly appreciate this most recent gift, and all he has done to support initiatives at the Zoo—and all across the Smithsonian. He is a visionary philanthropist."

Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, has been a member of the Smithsonian's Board of Regents since 2009. "The National Zoo's panda program has been a remarkable success—two healthy pandas in just two years—and I am pleased to support it for another five years," said Rubenstein. "Pandas bring joy to millions and serve as an important cultural bridge with China, as well as yielding important scientific discoveries that help to protect these amazing giant creatures."

"Our 42 years of giant panda research will continue thanks to David," said Dennis Kelly, director of the National Zoo. "His generosity allows us to focus on one critically endangered species but in doing so, we leverage all we learn to better manage other species in human care and in the wild, explore options for reintroducing giant pandas to their native habitat, further international cooperation, train the next generation of scientists and upgrade and provide new platforms to teach our visitors about science conservation."

With this gift, the Zoo's animal care team and the SCBI's scientific team will renew their five-year research agreement with colleagues from the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA). Together, they study the effects of land corridors linking fragmented panda habitats and the most effective methods to restore habitats, especially those where pandas appear to be making a comeback; provide advice on giant panda reintroduction efforts; research transmissible disease effects on giant pandas and other species that share their habitat; and continue research on giant panda reproduction and management.

During the past five years, Rubenstein's gift supported extensive reproductive and ecosystem research along with training programs and workshops. As a result:

  • Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) was successfully artificially inseminated twice resulting in the birth of Bao Bao in 2013 and a male cub born Aug. 22
  • Eleven Rubenstein fellows, both Chinese and American, conducted research in situ and ex situ on giant pandas and their habitat
  • SCBI and CWCA scientists studied the nutritional composition of bamboo species
  • Scientists developed new methods to identify giant panda fecal parasites and monitor wildlife between giant panda reserves
  • New bamboo restoration plots have been established based on field surveys monitoring panda habitat and ranges
  • SCBI and Chinese veterinarians conducted workshops for veterinarians across China focusing on necropsy, lab diagnostics and clinical skills
  • More than 100 Chinese scientists have been trained to conduct and analyze data from surveys monitoring giant pandas and other species that share their habitat
  • SCBI scientist Jonathan Ballou led annual analyses leading to breeding recommendations for the global population of giant pandas in human care from 2012 to 2015
  • SCBI ecologists translated and edited a volume on giant panda ecology authored by pioneer giant panda scientist Pan Wenshi
  • SCBI veterinarians and scientists developed a master plan for the Wildlife Disease Control Center in Dujiangyan, Sichuan Province, with Chinese colleagues from the Wolong National Nature Reserve and Ocean Park Hong Kong
  • SCBI endocrinologists modified the hormone assay used to predict giant panda ovulation and perform artificial inseminations; the assay can now be completed in two hours rather than four&8212;giving scientists extra critical time during the 24 to 72 hours each year a female is in estrus
  • SCBI scientists compiled a database filled with information about behavior and hormones demonstrating the consistency in reproductive activities in the female panda; these data are useful for pinpointing the appropriate time to perform an artificial insemination

The David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat is home to Tian Tian (t-YEN t-YEN), Mei Xiang, Bao Bao and the unnamed male cub born Aug. 22. It consists of living spaces for giant pandas, an open-air plaza with an interpretive exhibit about pandas, their habitat and the ways scientists study them in the wild; and an indoor interpretive exhibit that details the history of giant pandas at the National Zoo and the research conducted by its scientists during the past four decades.

The Zoo will continue to provide daily updates on Mei Xiang and the cub born almost four weeks ago through its @SmithsonianZoo Instagram account using #PandaStory and through the Giant Panda e-newsletter.