How Long Have We Loved Pandas?

On August 21, 2020 the Smithsonian Zoo welcomed the newest giant panda. While the newest panda doesn’t look like a panda, or very giant, it will start to resemble adult giant pandas about a month after its birth. 

Pandas are native to central China. The first panda to arrive in the United States came in 1936. A fashion designer named Ruth Harkness captured a baby panda named Su Lin and brought it to the U.S. This is when the American obsession with giant pandas began.

After that, several zoos expressed their desire to purchase a panda, and many were captured from the wild and sold to zoos. In 1946, China stopped allowing foreigners to hunt and capture pandas. By the early 1950s all of the pandas in the U.S. had died.

It wasn’t until President Nikon’s visit to China in 1972, that the U.S. was gifted with a new giant panda. Reportedly, at a dinner in Beijing, First Lady Patricia Nixon, mentioned that she liked giant pandas to the Chinese Premier, Zhou Enlai. Zhou was eager for better relations with the U.S. and told the First Lady that he would get the U.S. some pandas. Later that year, the U.S. welcomed a pair of pandas named Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing to the Smithsonian Zoo.

China no longer gives pandas to other countries; instead they loan them. This means that China lets other countries "borrow" these animals for a period of time. After the agreed upon loan time has ended, the zoos send the pandas back to China. In the late 1990s and the early 2000s, China loaned pandas to four zoos across the U.S. The zoos help the giant pandas have children, and after a few years the cubs are sent back to China for breeding. In recent years this beloved species has moved from engendered to vulnerable, which is an improvement for the species.

The U.S. currently has three zoos that have giant pandas: the Smithsonian Zoo in D.C., Zoo Atlanta, and the Memphis Zoo. The San Diego Zoo recently gave back their giant pandas to China in 2019. The latest panda cub belongs to Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, giant pandas on loan to the Smithsonian Zoo since 2000.

To watch pandas live, check out the panda cams at these zoos: Smithsonian Zoo, Atlanta Zoo, Memphis Zoo.

To learn more about pandas (kids and adults), check out these materials:

Pandas

Panda

Panda

Pandas

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