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DC said goodbye to its giant pandas at National Zoo’s ‘Panda Palooza’

Pandas at the Smithsonian National Zoo are heading back to China in December

In preparation for its beloved giant pandas’ return to China, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo held a week-long farewell event named “Panda Palooza.”r. The celebration took place from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1. 

The pandas — Xiao Qi Ji, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian — will be returning to China as the National Zoo’s research and breeding contract with China expires.

Since 1972, the pandas have symbolized cross-cultural cooperation between China and the United States. For the first time in 51 years, the zoo will be without giant pandas. 

The zoo’s partnership with pandas began when former first lady Pat Nixon mentioned her fondness of giant pandas to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai 51 years ago over dinner. He responded by gifting the U.S. two giant pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing. 

“It’s a lot of emotions going on, it's a lot of memories we shared,” zoo employee Simmons Fernandize said. “That's just basically the main thing of Panda Palooza, that's why it's so exciting for everyone here.” 

Since the pandas’ arrival in 1972, tourists have traveled far and wide for a chance to see them. 

“I am actually here on vacation and I read an article on Reddit … that said the pandas were going away, and I don’t think I have ever seen a panda so I came,” Oregon resident Victoria Salsbury said. 

“The pandas are leaving, so we were like okay, Panda Palooza, might as well show up to their farewell party,” Erin Koffman, a visitor from North Carolina, said.

Visitors got to see Xiao Qi Ji, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian roam their enclosement and enjoy ice cakes. Scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, “Kung Fu Panda” screenings, live music and temporary tattoos were a part of the nine-day farewell party. 

The celebration also celebrated the zoo’s successful conservation efforts for pandas over the years. 

Through breeding and ecological efforts, Chinese and American scientists saved 2,400 pandas, according to Fernandize. 

“You're just looking at … 50 plus years, of a culmination from civilians, from people, from keepers, from veterinarians, from everyone, making sure that [pandas] go from endangered to vulnerable, and we have,” Fernandize said.

The pandas are set to return to China by Dec. 7.

This article was edited by Abigail Hatting, Jordan Young and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing by Isabelle Kravis and Daniel Carson.

As the semester comes to an end and one of the founding members leaves American University, Section 202 has decided to take a trip down memory lane. For our fans, old and new, who are wondering how Section 202 came to be, this episode is a must. Listen along as hosts Connor Sturniolo and Liah Argiropoulos reminisce about the beginning of Section 202 and how it got to where it is now.

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