Giant pandas will be returning to the National Zoo in Washington

The San Diego Zoo and the San Francisco Zoo both announced last month they would also be receiving giant pandas from China in renewed agreements.
National Zoo Giant Pandas 2024
Posted at 12:35 PM, May 29, 2024

The National Zoo will once again be home to a pair of giant pandas on loan from China less than a year after it bid farewell to three panda bears that had been in Washington for over two decades.

According to an announcement from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, the Chinese government is extending another olive — or bamboo — branch to the U.S., allowing two adult pandas to be sent to Washington by the end of the year in a renewed agreement.

Two-year-old male Bao Li (pronounced BOW-lee) and 2-year-old female Qing Bao (pronounced ching-BOW) will hop on a FedEx “Panda Express” flight from China with their care team on an unannounced date and quarantine for at least 30 days at the National Zoo before their public debut.

As part of the new panda loan agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, any offspring of the two pandas will be sent to China by the age of 4. The National Zoo will pay the association a $1 million annual fee, as all zoos that house pandas outside of China do, which it said will not come from federal funding.

The new agreement is effective through April 2034.

File photo of a panda sleeping in a tree.

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The zoo said giant pandas have been one of its biggest attractions since the first pair arrived in 1972 under the panda loan agreement with China. The popular Giant Panda Cam, which has garnered over 100 million views since it launched, will be back online after some upgrades.

But the fluffy creatures aren’t just there for looks. The National Zoo said it works with its partners in China to research the species and innovate ways to conserve them in the wild.

“For more than five decades, [the National Zoo] has created and maintained one of the world’s foremost giant panda conservation programs, helping move the panda from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ on the global list of species at risk of extinction,” the National Zoo said in its announcement.

In November, the U.S. waved a tearful goodbye to the three pandas that had called the National Zoo home for 23 years as Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Xiao Qi Ji were sent back to China.

After the departure, the only remaining pandas in the U.S. were at Zoo Atlanta in Georgia, and those are still scheduled to return to their home country later this year after a pandemic-related delay.

Giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian.

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Earlier in 2023, the Memphis Zoo returned its panda, Ya Ya, to China, and the San Diego Zoo’s giant pandas were returned in 2019.

The Chinese government didn’t explain why all of the pandas from the U.S. were being returned. It could have been simply that the loan agreements for the pandas had come to an end, but some say it was a reflection of the diplomatic tension between the two countries.

But now it seems that panda diplomacy has returned. In addition to the new pandas about to take residence in Washington, the San Diego Zoo and the San Francisco Zoo both announced last month they would also be receiving giant pandas in renewed agreements.

The National Zoo said it is trying to raise $25 million in donations to renovate the panda exhibit, cover permit costs and more. The bears’ care costs like food, medicine and habitat needs are covered by federal funding.

An amusing video accompanied the National Zoo’s panda announcement featuring the zoo’s director Brandie Smith, Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III and first lady Dr. Jill Biden. Watch below.

Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute Panda Return Announcement