“I feel panda-monium goes to interrupt out proper right here on the Nationwide Zoo,” Pat Nixon stated jokingly on the arrival celebration on April 16.
Nixon was proper. Folks from the Washington space and throughout the nation stood in lengthy strains to see Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing. Not solely had been they cute, however in addition they had a compelling story: The species wanted assist as a result of the variety of wild pandas in China was declining attributable to habitat loss and different issues.
Followers hoped the pair would produce cubs, and so they did. However not one of the newborns — who’re the dimensions of a stick of butter — survived longer than just a few days.
Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing spent a few years on the zoo, dying there in outdated age in 1992 and 1999.
The Smithsonian needed to proceed studying about pandas and educating the general public in regards to the endangered species. The Chinese language authorities provided to lend a male panda and a feminine panda for $1 million per yr. The zoo agreed, and Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN) and Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) arrived in December 2000. The 2 immediately grew to become the most well-liked animals on the zoo.
Panda-watchers grew much more excited in 2005 when Mei Xiang gave delivery to Tai-Shan (tie-SHAN) in 2005. Every cub milestone grew to become a information story. Sadly, Tai couldn’t keep on the zoo. Pandas born there have been required to be despatched to a breeding program in China, so in 2010 the town stated farewell to its much-loved cub.
Mei ultimately had three extra wholesome cubs: Bei Bei (Bay Bay), Bao Bao (rhymes with wow wow) — who each moved to China — and Xiao Qi Ji (SHIAU-chi-ji), who remains to be on the zoo. Xiao Qi Ji was known as “little miracle” as a result of his mother grew to become the second-oldest big panda identified to provide delivery when he was born in 2020.
The Nationwide Zoo has deliberate a “pandaversary” April 16 and 17 to mark 50 years of big pandas in Washington. The occasion will embrace dance performances, scientist talks, showings of a brand new panda documentary and treats for Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Xiao Qi Ji.
Prior to now 50 years, the enormous panda story has develop into extra hopeful. Because of conservation efforts in China and zoos worldwide, the species has moved from endangered to threatened, a less-worrisome class. These curious about seeing pandas in particular person ought to go to the Nationwide Zoo earlier than December 2023. China has determined that every one three pandas will go away Washington at the moment, and there’s no plan to ship extra. It could possibly be a brand new period for the species — one spent principally at dwelling.