D.C. may be saying “zài huì” (“farewell” in Chinese) but there’s still time to see them in their current home before the trio returns to China.
It was panda-monium at the Smithsonian National Zoo over the weekend as fans of the panda bears came from all over to say goodbye.
The National Zoo held a grand going away party accurately titled “Panda Palooza“ for the three giant pandas — Mei Xiang (may-SHONG), Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN), and Xiao Qi Ji (SHIAU-chi-ji) — from September 23 to October 1, with the last two days full of events for anyone who managed to snag a ticket before they sold out.
Over the weekend, attendees had a variety of activities to choose from. So, I headed to the National Zoo on Friday. By the time I got there, the zoo was already buzzing with energy. Vintage Views had mobile coffee and drink bar set up right at the entrance with specialty drinks for the pandas. I grabbed one of their “Panda Dreams” then headed into the exhibits.
This was my first time at the zoo, but it was clear where the panda exhibit was because there was quite a line leading down into the exhibit — it was even wrapped up and around when I left the panda house. People gathered on the walkway into the exhibit to watch Mei Xiang as she snacked in one of the outside enclosures. Further down, I got an up close look at Xiao Qi Ji as he hung out in a tree. Then I saw him, the star of the show: Tian Tian. I walked around the exhibit to a food court area that overlooks the panda enclosure and was able to watch the papa bear snack and roll around.
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Saturday was when the real party started happened. Multiple mobile shops were set up all around the zoo for people to buy panda merchandise, from light up sticks to plushies. I joined in on the scavenger hunt that the National Zoo set up for anyone who wanted to join in. It took you all around the zoo and I was able to learn about the other animals that were at the zoo. The focus might have been on the pandas, but it was nice to see which other animals call D.C. their home.
The best part of the day was seeing the art the pandas made. The zoo sent up an art gallery with reproductions of paintings from the bears — the paintings are made with non-toxic paint as part of the bears enrichment activities to keep their brains sharp. Three different pieces by each panda were on display at the “pawp”-up gallery, but my favorites were by Mei Xiang.
The main question now is which animal with replace the giant pandas once they are gone. My money is the newest member to the National Zoo, Basil. This one-eyed opossum was welcomed early last month as part of the zoo’s initiative to educate people about animals that live in our own backyards. He has an underdog story that would make anyone like him.
He was rescued and dropped off at City Wildlife, where they fixed up all of the wounds he get while living in the wild — aka the streets of D.C. Unfortunately, he was too friendly to be released back into the wild and made his way to the zoo. If that doesn’t make you root for Basil, I don’t know what will.
If you’re still not convinced on an oppossum being the next hit animal at the National Zoo, I have one more good reason – Basil can teach us to be kinder oppossums in our neighborhood. Yes, they go through our trash cans. Yes, they can be a little scary looking. But, they also clean up garbage and potentially harmful insects. These skrunkly-looking marsupials deserve some kindness for all the work they do for us.
Panda Palooza might be over, but the pandas are still in the District for the next couple of months. They’ll be at the National Zoo until December, when they will make their way back to China. So, head over to the zoo to get your panda headband before they sell out again and say goodbye to the pandas before they leave for good this winter – and get ready to root for Basil (or your other favorite creature) in their absence.
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