News & Politics

Maryland Man in Panda Suit Wants to “Battle” a Real Panda. He Would Lose, Badly.

Tian Tian. Photograph via National Zoo.

When Millersville, Maryland resident Jeffrey Perez saw the National Zoo’s video Saturday of adult male giant panda Tian Tian frolicking in the blizzard, his reaction was different than the typical burst of cheerfulness that washed over most people who watched the clip. Rather than enjoy the brief distraction from the snow and wind pummeling the mid-Atlantic, Perez took it as a call to battle.

Perez, who for some reason owns a full-body panda costume, strapped on the outfit and attempted to mimic Tian Tian’s movements in the snow. He posted video to Instagram, with the caption, “I challenge #tiantian to a snow battle.”

ABC News picked up Perez’s video and reported it like nothing could possibly go wrong.

In fact, a “battle” against Tian Tian would go very badly for Perez. While the National Zoo is unlikely to let Perez meet one if its most-prized specimens in single combat, if it did, the fresh, white, powdery snow would likely wind up spattered in blood.

Although giant pandas appear to be fat, lumbering, lazy creatures, they are still bears capable of messing up people who get too close without taking the appropriate precautions. The website When Pandas Attack collects stories of both encounters with wild pandas in China and bozos who jump into panda habitats at zoos. The most famous example of this might be former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who during an official visit to Paris’s Vincennes Zoo tested his “presidential courage” by walking into the panda cage, only to be instantly attacked by one of the resident bears and forcing the zoo’s staff to rush to free him from the creature’s claws before the panda could take out the leader of the Fifth Republic.

A 2014 study by the National Institutes of Health goes into gruesome details about giant panda attacks on humans, focusing on three incidents at the Beijing Zoo in which tourists—sometimes drunkenly—entered the panda habitat and were severely mauled.

“Most people always thought they were cute and just ate bamboo and had never imagined a panda could be vicious,” the abstract reads. (Warning: The NIH study also includes extremely graphic photos of the damage caused by panda teeth and claws.)

And sometimes not even the trained professionals are safe. In 1984, National Zoo employee Edwin Jacobs was scratched and bitten by Ling Ling when attempting to check on her and clean up some stray bamboo. He suffered claw marks on his shoulder and a deep laceration on his right leg.

If Perez wants to throw on his panda suit and tumble with Tian Tian, he should at least know he faces long odds of winning.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.