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National Zoo to hand over giant pandas to China after 51 years

The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., will lose one of its most popular exhibits as it prepares to send its remaining three giant pandas to China.
National Zoo to hand over giant pandas to China after 51 years
Posted at 2:23 PM, Aug 25, 2023

After 51 years, the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is set to lose its giant pandas. 

The zoo has continued agreements with the China Wildlife and Conservation Association, with the most recent agreement coming in December 2020. That three-year agreement is set to expire in December. 

The zoo confirmed this week that 3-year-old Xiao Qi Ji and his parents Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, both 25 years old, will leave the Zoo by December. The National Zoo said it will hold Panda Palooza in late September as a farewell celebration for the pandas. Details of the celebration have not been released. 

Tian Tian and Mei Xiang have lived at the zoo since 2000. They were given to the zoo for 10 years in exchange for $10 million. 

SEE MORE: Memphis Zoo's giant panda Ya Ya returns home to Shanghai

Only 1,800 giant pandas exist in the wild, according to the zoo. Their estimated lifespan is 15-20 years in the wild and about 30 years in human care. 

Last year, the zoo celebrated 50 years of hosting giant pandas from China. 

“After 50 years, giant pandas remain an iconic species for our Zoo,” Brandie Smith, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, said last year. “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.”

The zoo has long touted its partnership with China for hosting the pandas. President Richard Nixon accepted two giant pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, as a gift from China to the American people in 1972. 

While it is unclear what China will do with the pandas when they leave the U.S., the zoo said that China has been attempting to reintroduce pandas into the wild. 

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