The beloved stars of a zoo webcam have flown back to their original home.
Last week, the Smithsonian National Zoo’s mainstay giant pandas, 25-year-old Mei Xiang and 26-year-old Tian Tian, were safely transferred from the zoo via travel crate to the so-called “FedEx Panda Express” to go back to China, where they were each born before coming to Washington, D.C. in 2000. Joining them on the journey was their youngest cub, Xiao Qi Ji, born in 2020. Their other three surviving offspring – Tai Shan, born in 2005; Bao Bao, born in 2013; and Bei Bei, born in 2015 – have also relocated to China, with the first two having their own cubs, as well.
Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and Xiao Qi Ji are now at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda’s ShenShuPing Campus in Wolong, where they’re in quarantine and acclimating to their new home. The return was planned, as the parent pandas were on a loan from China. They’ve made a difference in their temporary home, though.
Brandie Smith, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, said, “As Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Xiao Qi Ji depart for their new home in China, they leave behind a tremendous legacy in Washington, D.C. It is exciting and humbling that people around the world have followed these pandas, shared in our joys and rooted for our success. I am incredibly proud of our animal care experts and researchers, whose observations and research in giant panda biology, behavior, reproduction, health and native habitat have helped move giant pandas off the endangered species list.”
People around the world were able to follow the zoo’s work with the animals thanks to the Giant Panda Cam, which has had more than 100 million views. It also provided comfort during the height of the pandemic, when more than 639,000 people tuned in to watch Xiao Qi Ji’s birth.
It wasn’t just joy the pandas brought, though. The zoo says their presence helped build on global knowledge of the species and helped with the training of the next generation of researchers and animal care professionals, which officials hope will lead to the species’ success both in captivity and the wild.
So, as the animals traveled to China with more than 250 pounds of snacks, they were leaving behind a job well done.
If you’d like to help with the giant panda’s survival, you can give us a hand planting bamboo, a key part of their diet. Learn how to help here!