Departure From “Panda Diplomacy”

November 8, 2023

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.

National Zoo Director Brandie Smith, as three giant pandas left the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., beginning their 19-hour journey to China.

Big Picture: Giant pandas are black and white bears indigenous to China, which have also become a symbol of diplomacy (aka “panda diplomacy”). In fact, after President Nixon visited China, reestablishing diplomatic relations, China shared these indigenous bears with America. The pandas’ departure comes as an exchange agreement (initially brokered by President Richard Nixon in 1972) with the Chinese government is soon to expire.

Why It Matters: On Wednesday, three giant pandas, Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and their cub Xiao Qi Ji, departed the National Zoo and were taken to an airport in Virginia “where a specially outfitted Boeing 777F dubbed the FedEx Panda Express was waiting,” The Associated Press reports, along with more than 200 pounds of bamboo. The National Zoo hopes to reach a new agreement with the Chinese government; meanwhile, the only giant pandas in the United States remain at the Atlanta Zoo.

Chinese Embassy representative Xu Xueyuan said: “Such collaboration has contributed strongly to the mutual understanding and friendship between the Chinese and American peoples. China will continue to work closely with cooperation partners, including the United States, on the conservation and research of endangered species and biodiversity protection.”

The pandas “will join about 150 other pandas in a lush nature preserve …” (The New York Times

Giant Pandas Depart Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute for China (Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute)

National Zoo’s giant pandas fly home amid uncertainty about future panda exchanges (The Associated Press)

by Leah Grainery, based in Texas