Going to the zoo isn’t an activity that I place at the top of my list. I have mixed feelings seeing animals in captivity, but the Smithsonian National Zoo is only minutes from my friend’s apartment. Since it was a nice warm day, my sister and I hopped on the D.C. Circulator, a convenient bus system that runs between the city’s main attractions. Like many of the Smithsonian museums, the zoo is free. Home to 2,000 animals and covering an area of 163 acres, you can easily spend a whole day there. Since pandas can only be seen in a few places in North America—this zoo being one of them—we headed straight for the panda exhibit.
Although we entered the zoo from the west entrance where the panda exhibit is closest, we still had to meander through several exhibits to get there. If that was intentional by the zoo to build up anticipation it certainly did the trick. With every turn and occasional sign pointing the way, we wondered when we’d ever reach the pandas.
When we finally arrived at the exhibit, it was just in time for their lunch. Everyone crowded around in excitement to take photos of the irresistibly cute pandas enjoying their fruitsicles, a concoction of frozen fruit chunks and fruit juice.
Since pandas are native to China, we wondered how they were transported to the zoo. Currently, pandas are considered an endangered species and less than 2,000 are alive in the world. About 300 live in captivity and of that total, about 50 live outside of China. Does the endangered species status mean pandas get special treatment like flying business class on a plane? You may have remembered this photo that went viral a few years ago. I doubt they can stay still enough for a 14-hour flight.
But, even better, pandas get their own private plane for the long journey, equipped with a special crew to handle their needs and a huge panda decal on the front of the plane. Now that’s traveling in style! A long journey can be traumatic for pandas, so extra effort is taken to make the trip as comfortable as possible. Regardless, my sister thinks the pandas must experience some shock, arriving at their new locations and suddenly seeing a bunch of white people.
After the pandas finished their fruitsicles, they wandered back to their indoor resting area. Here we saw the super adorable panda cub, Bei Bei, sitting in a box by himself and munching on carrots. Later his mom, Mei Xiang, came over to check on him. The overload of cuteness made spectators squeal with delight as we watched Bei Bei climb on top of mom’s belly and get pushed off with her paw (see video below.)
We were fortunate to see the pandas so active and interacting with each other. The light crowds on a Monday made it easy for us to spend as much time as we wanted observing them. If you can’t see the pandas in person, the next best thing is seeing them live on the Smithsonian National Zoo’s 24-hour live feed through their panda cam. At certain points of the day, you can see the pandas climbing up trees, eating bamboo, and Bei Bei’s restless antics, which makes for great entertainment.
For more unbearable cuteness, here are a few short clips of the pandas eating and playing on the day we saw them.
I wish we had more time to see more amazing animals at the National Zoo. Although, we did catch a glimpse of a few others including the cheetah, gorillas, and orangutan. The gorillas were hanging out and chilling when they turned their heads in my direction. It looked as if they were staring straight at me when I took their photo. Despite my mixed feelings, I’m glad we were able to see these magnificent animals.