In 1972, First Lady, Patricia Nixon mentioned her fondness for giant pandas to the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai at a dinner in Beijing. He responded by promising to send her some. On April 16, 1972 President and Mrs. Nixon formally welcomed giant pandas Ling-Ling (a female) and Hsing-Hsing (a male) to the Smithsonian's Natural Zoo. Over the next twenty years, Ling Ling and Hsing-Hsing produced five cubs. Sadly, none of their off spring survived for more than a few days. (Source: "A Brief History of Giant Pandas at the Zoo"). But ever since their arrival, Pandas they have captured our hearts and we are endlessly fascinated by them.

"On December 6, 2000, giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian arrived at the zoo. Unlike the first pair, these pandas were only on loan. In exchange for them, the zoo contributed money and expertise towards conservation efforts in China. In a mutual agreement between the United States and China, the pandas will remain in the US until December 7, 2020. If you go on and search Giant Pandas at the Washington Zoo, you can follow their whole reproductive saga, including their numerous artificial insemination attempts. (Frankly, it's too much information for me.) Suffice it to say, Ling-Ling never produced a cub that lived very long, but on August 22, 2015, Mei Xiang gave birth to two male cubs. The smaller of the cubs died, but the larger lived. On September 25, 2015 the First Lady of the United States and the First Lady of the People's republic of China named the cub Bei Bei. On November 10, 2019 Bei Bei departed the Smithsonian Zoo for a new home in China.

I remember going to the zoo and standing for hours in front of the panda area, watching Ling Ling and Hsing-Hsing play together and chomp on bamboo. I had left the D.C. area by the time Mei Xiang and Tian Tian arrived, so sadly, I never saw them.

Here are a few interesting facts about Pandas according to Wikipedia:

  • Their scientific name is Ailuropoda melanoleuca. (Quite a mouthful and a definite stumper at a national spelling bee.)
  • Their adult weight ranges between 165-353 pounds.
  • Their life span is 15-20 years in the wild and 25-35 years in captivity.
  • Bamboo is critical for their diet.
  • When pregnant, the gestation period is 95-160 days.
  • Giant pandas are good at climbing trees and can also swim.
  • Pandas are lazy - eating and sleeping most of the time.
  • An adult can consume 12-38 kilos of bamboo per day.
  • Giant pandas are identified by their distinctive black and white coloring. Their ears, muzzle, eyes, shoulders and legs are black while the rest of their body is white.
  • Of all the members of the bear family, only sloth bears have longer tails than pandas.

Per the 2020 agreement, the Washington National Zoo lost its pandas in December of last year. Now one can only find the pandas at Zoo Atlanta in Georgia and the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee.

The Chinese government owns nearly all the giant pandas on earth. American zoos will pay up to a million a year to rent just one. Most zoos sign a 10-year agreement and if any cubs are born, they pay an additional, one-time, $400,000 baby tax. That doesn't include extra costs such as bear enclosures, medical care, and mountains of bamboo. The National Zoo in Washington D.C. reported that their merchandise sales nearly doubled from $5.5 million in 2000 to 10.3 million after their two pandas arrived.

According to Business Insider, Pandas are very cute, but they don't do much for the ecosystem, and they take away a lot of resources from other endangered plants and animals. “Turns out, breeding pandas in captivity is a completely different ball game than in the wild. Threesomes are more or less the norm when it comes to wild-panda-sex - something that's difficult to replicate in zoos. On top of that, wild pandas have a mating routine that involves courting calls and scent markings that can last weeks. But in captivity, the chosen pair is often separated right up to when the female is ovulating. As a result, they rarely hit it off. And even if they do, there's no guarantee the cub will live.

"Regardless, we are dead set on keeping this species alive. And why wouldn't we? They're freakin' adorable! Their round heads, seemingly large eyes, and Cabbage Patch Kids bodies remind us of babies, and that triggers a nurturing response." (Source: "Why Pandas are the Most Overrated Animals on the Planet").

Until my next inspiration...ciao.


Pandas Photo by Stone Wang on Unsplash

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