News & Politics

A Look Back at DC’s Best Panda Moments

The best of 50 years' worth of cuddly content.

Mei Xiang and Xiao Qi Ji eating sugar cane. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

It’s National Panda Day, y’all, and in honor of our furry friends, here’s a look back at some of DC’s most memorable panda moments and photos.

The National Zoo gets its first giant pandas

Gifted to President Nixon by the Chinese government in 1972, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing became the first pair of giant pandas to be housed by a US zoo. The couple produced five cubs, though none survived long after birth. For 20 years, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing were not only a symbol of peaceful Chinese-American relations, they became a beloved fixture in the District, put the National Zoo on the map, and sparked the zoo’s now decades-long giant panda breeding and research efforts. It’s been 50 years since Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing arrived, and the Smithsonian is celebrating the milestone with six months of festivities.

Rusty the Red Panda escapes from the zoo

Back in 2013, new-to-DC Rusty had only been at the National Zoo for a few weeks when he somehow got out of his habitat. Luckily, he was found not long after in Adams Morgan and returned to the zoo.

Rusty. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

That time a giant panda rode the orange line

This awesome pic was captured for DC FotoWeek in 2010 when photographer Walter Grio convinced his friend to don a panda costume on the Metro. Not exactly who/what National Panda Day had in mind, but a true testament to DC’s love of all things panda.

Photograph by Walter Grio.

Giant and red panda cubs are born at the Smithsonian

Thanks largely to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the metropolitan area has seen a number of giant and red pandas be born since Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing first arrived. The sweet babies, like Bao Bao and Bei Bei, quickly warmed their way into the hearts of Washington.

Baby Bao Bao in 2014. Photo by Courtney Janney/Smithsonian’s National Zoo.
Baby Bao Bao in 2014. Photo by Courtney Janney/Smithsonian’s National Zoo.
New red panda cub in 2019. Photo by Jessica Kordell/Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

When we got an inside look into a day in the life of a baby panda

They love sweets!

The many times DC pandas have played in the snow

From Bao Bao being clumsy AF during her first time in the wintery powder to Xiao Qi Ji loving “Snowmicron,” there’s been no shortage of snow-related content from the National Zoo’s cuddliest residents.

Tian Tian. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Zoo.
Xiao Qi Ji. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Zoo.
Rusty. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Finally, enjoy some more photos of our favorite pandas, both new and old

Chris-Anne. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Zoo.
Tian Tian eating sugar cane. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Zoo.
Asa. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Zoo.
Giant panda Bei Bei. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.
Tori Bergel
Editorial Fellow