WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (NZCBI) is gearing up to bid farewell to its beloved giant pandas with a special nine-day event, “Panda Palooza.” Scheduled from Sept. 23 to Oct. 1, the event will celebrate the lives and legacies of 25-year-old Mei Xiang, 26-year-old Tian Tian, and their 3-year-old cub, Xiao Qi Ji, before they head back to China later this year.

The festivities, made possible with support from Boeing and entertainment partner Events DC, will feature onsite and online activities accessible via the Giant Panda Cam. Zoo visitors can enjoy free family-friendly events such as panda-themed arts and crafts, morning yoga, live music, and free film screenings. The Zoo will also offer calligraphy stations and special treats in partnership with the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China. Event details and complimentary passes are available on the Zoo’s website.

“Millions have connected with and grown up loving Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and their cubs by visiting us in Washington, D.C., and watching our Giant Panda Cam,” said Brandie Smith, the John and Adrienne Mars Director of NZCBI. She added that although the farewell is bittersweet, it’s important to celebrate the pandas’ impact on conservation and public awareness of their species.

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian first arrived in Washington, D.C., from China in 2000 and quickly captivated hearts around the globe. Their four surviving cubs—Xiao Qi Ji, Bei Bei, Bao Bao, and Tai Shan—have contributed to the global love affair with these unique bears. Mei Xiang is the oldest giant panda to give birth in the United States and the second oldest worldwide.

The NZCBI’s pandas have played a crucial role in international efforts to understand and conserve the species. Ongoing studies on panda farming, nutrition, behavior, and genetics have led to crucial insights into managing and growing healthy panda populations in captivity and the wild. Mei Xiang’s latest cub, Xiao Qi Ji, marked a milestone in species conservation as his birth came via artificial insemination using only frozen-thawed semen, showcasing the role of biobanking in species conservation.

Since its launch, the Zoo’s Giant Panda Cam has amassed 100 million page views, connecting millions to intimate moments in the lives of these giant pandas. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, over 639,000 people tuned in to witness the birth of Xiao Qi Ji.

The departure of Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and Xiao Qi Ji to China by Dec. 7 marks the end of a significant chapter in international animal care and conservation. While this is an emotional moment for fans and conservationists alike, the NZCBI remains committed to securing a healthy future for giant pandas globally. As part of the current Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, the Zoo has agreed to send the pandas back to China, closing a significant chapter in this international conservation success story.

The Zoo invites panda enthusiasts to share their memories and photos via its website, as a way to celebrate the remarkable legacy of these international symbols of conservation.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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