Pandas at the National Park Zoo attract many visitors

Sonia Kim ('16)/ Webmaster

When visitors enter the Asia Trail exhibit at the Smithsonian National Zoo, they are treated to a multitude of different animals that are reforestation of Asia. The most notable and recognizable of these animals is the Giant pandas. Currently there are three giant pandas on exhibit at the zoo. According the the smithsonian website, giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are at the National Zoo under a Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement, signed in January 2011, between the Zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. This extends the Zoo’s giant panda program through 2015. Mei and Tian are the focus of an ambitious research, conservation, and breeding program designed to preserve this endangered species. Additionally, visitors are treated to the baby panda cub, Bao Bao. Bao Bao has been spending time bonding with her mother, Mei, but was recently put on display. The general public have been eager to spot the panda cub.
“I’m super excited to see the baby panda,” said Meghna Kothari, a zoo visitor from New Jersey. “Panda’s are my favorite animals, but no zoo’s in my area have them. My family and I drove four hours to see the cub!”
According to the website, Bao  Bao has been introduced to the training cage! Zookeepers stated that “this is an important developmental step because this is where the animal care team conduct husbandry behaviors such as measuring blood pressure, drawing blood, taking radiographs, and even routine vaccinations.”
The zoo is one of the only zoo’s in America to have the facilities and experienced staff that are able to care for the panda’s. According to the zoo’s website, “the new David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat, two new yards feature several enriching features for both animal and visitor enjoyment and add more than 12,000 square feet to the pandas’ outdoor exhibit. Additions to the indoor exhibit include a new room with a rocky outcrop and waterfall, another den, and more visitor viewing space and informational exhibits.”
The zoo is only the to be able to create a habitat that is suitable for the pandas. The pandas’ state-of-the-art David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat is designed to mimic the pandas’ natural habitat of rocky, lush terrain in China. The zoo states that “each element has a purpose—from helping the pandas stay cool in hot weather to giving them a place to hide when they need privacy. There are rock and tree structures perfect for climbing; grottoes, pools, and streams for keeping cool; and shrubs and trees, including weeping willows, corktrees, and maples, and several species of bamboo.”
The habitat is also Eco-friendly, as well as comfortable for the pandas. According to the zoo’s website, many sustainable design strategies, such as planted green roofs to reduce stormwater runoff, were incorporated into the new habitat. Other elements include a solar hot water system; natural tree-resin bound paving material, instead of petroleum-based asphalt, on the visitor paths; recycled rubber; sustainably harvested ipe wood, which is naturally resistant to pests and rot; and dried bamboo, because it is rapidly renewable resource and does not deplete the environment when harvested.”
There is also an indoor panda habitat, where the pandas can go to get out of the elements and live in a comfortable climate controlled environment. This indoor element is visitor friendly, and zoo guests can share rocks with the pandas and informational exhibits! The indoor habitat also doubles as a storage area for the panda’s bamboo, which visitors are allowed to enter, to see firsthand the large amount of bamboo that the pandas consume every day!
Most importantly, the indoor panda exhibit is home to the zoo’s giant panda research center. scientists do numerous things at this center, they are learning about panda reproduction and improving their odds through artificial insemination; strengthening the pandas’ bodies and minds with challenging enrichment; capacity building in China through workshops at the panda reserves; and behavioral observation and analysis through our in-house observation post.
Overall, with the care that the zoo provides, the pandas are sure to have a happy and healthy life on display for the American people!