News & Politics

Rejoice! Pandas Are Returning to the National Zoo.

Two giant pandas will be arriving in Washington from China by the end of the year.

Two-year-old male giant panda Bao Li in his habitat at Shenshuping Base in Wolong, China, May 16. Photo by Roshan Patel, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

Attention, DC panda lovers: we are so back. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo announced Wednesday that two giant pandas—Bao Li, a male, and Qing Bao, a female, both two years old—will be arriving in Washington by the end of the year.

The announcement means that the National Zoo, which in partnership with China has hosted giant pandas and operated a conservation program since the 1970s, will once again be home to creatures who have become a top draw at the zoo and a beloved part of the the city’s fabric.

Bao Li is the son of Bao Bao, a female giant panda who was born at the zoo in 2013, and the grandson of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, pandas who lived at the zoo until late 2023. Pronounced “BOW-lee,” according to the zoo, his name means “an active and vital power.”

Quing Bao, pronounced “ching-BOW,” means “precious” and “treasure,” according to the zoo.

Two-year-old female giant panda Qing Bao in her habitat at Dujiangyan Base in Sichuan, China May 17. Photo by Roshan Patel, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

The zoo did not announce exactly when the new pandas will arrive in Washington, but a spokesperson told the Washington Post that they likely will arrive in the fall because it’s preferable to ship animals in cooler weather.

The zoo also told the Post that they will provide free air and ground transportation for the pandas and their Chinese keepers to the United States; that the pandas will be quarantined in the zoo’s panda house for a minimum of 30 days after their arrival to reduce risk of introducing parasites or disease to other animals; and that the pandas will make their public debut once the zoo believes they have acclimated to their new habitat and are ready for a large number of visitors.

The zoo is currently renovating its David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat by installing new climbing structures and water features to encourage the pandas to exercise, as well as a new ventilation system to improve air quality and temperature control.

The zoo is also updating its popular giant panda cam, which allows for online viewing of the panda. The cam will be restarted after the pandas arrive.

To support the renovations and other aspects of its giant panda program, the zoo announced a new fundraising drive that seeks to raise $25 million from public and corporate donations over the next decade.

The panda return announcement comes after a period of uncertainty. Former zoo pandas Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and their son Xiao Qi Ji departed for China late last year, and ongoing geopolitical friction between China and the US cast doubt on when, exactly, China would lease more pandas to the zoo.

According to the zoo, Bao Li and Quing Bao will be in Washington on a lease that ends in 2034. The zoo will pay the China Wildlife and Conversation Association $1 million a year during that time.

You can watch First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Smithsonian Secretary Dr. Lonnie G. Bunch III, and John and Adrienne Mars Director Dr. Brandie Smith announce the arrival of the new pandas below:

Patrick Hruby
Deputy Editor