The Smithsonian’s National Zoo of America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the giant panda program

The Smithsonian National Zoo on Saturday marked a milestone in its giant panda program and its partnership with China to conserve this unique species.

Visitors enjoyed watching baby male Xiao Qi Ji and his mother Mei Xiang devour frozen treats in an outdoor courtyard at the zoo’s famous giant panda habitat in the morning, as well as adult male Tian Tian receiving his ice cream cake with lunch at noon.

The “food shows” were part of the zoo’s “Pandaversary Party” to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the giant panda program and decades of China-US collaboration to save bears from extinction.

Party-goers also had the opportunity to taste giant panda-shaped “Baozi” buns, try out Chinese calligraphy and watch lion dance performances and the world premiere of the documentary “The Miracle Panda” of the Smithsonian Channel.

Chinese Ambassador to the United States Qin Gang and members of the embassy toured the giant panda’s habitat on Saturday morning, accompanied by Smithsonian National Zoo director Brandie Smith.

Qin made a brief remark, saying that over the past 50 years, China and the United States have worked together and achieved a lot in conserving giant pandas, which are no longer an endangered species.

In a later tweet, the Chinese ambassador wrote that it was “a moving experience” to visit the Northwest Zoo in Washington, DC and see the three charismatic bears that live there up close.

“Expect greater success in China-US cooperation on #giantpanda conservation,” he added.

Lonnie G. Bunch III, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and historian, tweeted that he remembered queuing at the National Zoo to “see the famous pandas, whose presence in Washington marked a significant moment in science , culture and diplomacy”.

In 1972, then-Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai gifted two giant pandas to the United States as a gesture of goodwill following US President Richard Nixon’s groundbreaking trip to China. The Nixons chose the Smithsonian National Zoo as the home of female Ling-Ling and male Hsing-Hsing in the United States.

The chubby bears from China with distinctive black and white markings arrived in Washington DC on April 16, 1972. A few days later, then First Lady Patricia Nixon officially welcomed the giant panda couple to the zoo, which were the main attractions until they passed away separately in the 1990s.

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian arrived in the US capital in December 2000. Xiao Qi Ji – which means “Little Miracle” in Chinese – was born to Mei Xiang in the summer of 2020, who was artificially inseminated earlier this year there with frozen semen. by TianTian. Senior mammal curator Bryan Amaral told Xinhua on Saturday that the three giant pandas were in good health.

Native to southwest China, the giant panda is one of the world’s most beloved animals and has become a symbol of vulnerable species.

About 1,864 giant pandas live in their natural habitat, while another 600 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world.

Ryan H. Bowman