The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute will celebrate 50 years of unprecedented achievement in the care, conservation, breeding and study of giant pandas April 16. Over the past five decades, the Zoo’s bears have become international icons, beloved both for their adorable antics and their ability to bring colleagues from the United States and China together to collaborate for a common goal: saving the species from extinction.
Today, March 16, is National Panda Day, a fitting start for the Zoo’s six-month-long celebration for its visitors and global online community to commemorate this momentous occasion and celebrate the Zoo’s in-residence giant panda family—24-year-old male Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN), 23-year-old female Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) and their 18-month-old male cub Xiao Qi Ji (SHIAU-chi-ji). The Giant Panda 50th Anniversary celebration is made possible with the support of Boeing.
“After 50 years, giant pandas remain an iconic species for our Zoo,” said Brandie Smith, John and Adrienne Mars Director, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. “More importantly, they represent how great conservation outcomes can be achieved through great partnerships with our Chinese colleagues. Being able to introduce hundreds of millions of people worldwide to pandas and inspiring them to care about their conservation for five decades, coupled with our scientific breakthroughs, is a milestone truly worth celebrating.”
“At Boeing, everything we do ties back to our values and purpose, which is ‘to protect, connect and explore the world and beyond,” said Cheri Carter, vice president of Boeing Global Engagement. “Conservation matters to us. By supporting the Smithsonian’s longstanding giant panda program, we’re helping the Zoo and its partners ensure a future for this beloved bear, a true ambassador for the preservation and protection of our shared planet for future generations.”
Starting today through Aug. 27, the Zoo will hold online and on-site events in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the giant panda program. Details on the events are available on the Zoo’s website.
Ever since their arrival, giant pandas have symbolized cross-cultural collaboration between the United States and China. In 1972, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai gifted two giant pandas to the American people as a gesture of goodwill following former President Richard M. Nixon’s groundbreaking state visit. The President and First Lady Pat Nixon selected the Smithsonian’s National Zoo as female Ling-Ling and male Hsing-Hsing’s home in the United States. Then-Zoo director Theodore Reed personally escorted the bears from China, and they arrived in Washington, D.C., April 16, 1972. Four days later, Pat Nixon formally welcomed the panda pair to the Zoo.
For five decades, the Zoo has cared for these charismatic bears by creating and maintaining one of the world’s foremost panda conservation programs. Collaboration between Chinese colleagues and the Zoo’s team of animal care staff, scientists and researchers has been the cornerstone of those efforts. Working together, these conservationists have made significant contributions to the global knowledge of giant panda biology, behavior, reproduction, health and habitat. Joint programs to train the next generation of skilled research and animal care professionals ensure that giant pandas continue to thrive in human care and in the wild for generations to come. The unified effort to create and share knowledge is saving this species from extinction. Giant pandas are listed as “vulnerable” in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are an estimated 1,800 in the wild.
The Zoo has renewed its Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association three times since 2000. The current research agreement extension was signed Dec. 7, 2020, and stipulates the Zoo’s pandas will continue to live at the Zoo through 2023. In exchange, the Zoo contributes funds and expertise toward conservation efforts in China.
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute leads the Smithsonian’s global effort to save species, better understand ecosystems and train future generations of conservationists. The Zoo instills a lifelong commitment to conservation through engaging experiences with animals and the people working to save them. Founded in 1889, the Zoo is home to 2,000 animals representing more than 380 species. More than 200 scientists and their partners, in more than 30 countries, create and share knowledge to aid in the survival and recovery of species and their habitats. Findings from these studies provide critical data for the management of populations under human care and valuable insights for the conservation and management of wild populations.