Wednesday, November 08, 2023


They arrived in D.C. on December 6, 2000, and spent their first month getting used to their new digs before making their public debut on January 10, 2001. Today, Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, along with their three-year-old cub, Xiao Qi Ji, are headed back to China.

For the most part, this blog is dormant (though my kids love to look back at some of their very early adventures that I shared here), but the departure of Tian and Mei seems like it should be acknowledged. I started this blog in June 2003 in part to help myself do more writing and as part of processing the fertility issues we were going through.

At that point, I was already a few years into being a Panda Behavior Watch volunteer with Friends of the National Zoo. They’d put out a call for volunteers as part of preparing for the arrival of Tian and Mei and I thought it sounded fun so I signed up. About twice a month, I’d sit with another volunteer or two in the camera room in the panada house, moving the cameras to keep the pandas in frame for panda cam watchers and making notes for the various scientists who were studying the bears. On the rare occasion there would be some talking to the public, but mostly it was just watching the bears and spending some time wandering around the zoo before my shift would start. The coolest shifts were like the one in my third entry here: overnight shifts. Just walking through the zoo at night, when more than a few animals are active, was always a treat. (Below is a screencap from one of those nights; I'm watching the monitors while Tian Tian sleeps in the enclosure next door.)

Last Friday, Evelin and I carved out some time to visit the zoo. It was our first trip there in a very long while, but we timed it well, getting there around 9 a.m. Some of the animals were having a lie-in, but the bears were all out and about (along with a few Rock Creek Park deer who’d wandered into the zoo and not made it out by opening time).

We watched one of the sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) exploring for food. As an enrichment, the keepers had wrapped bananas and other fruits in T-shirts and buried them under leaves around the enclosure. I did not realize that sloth bears peel their bananas, only eating the fruit inside the peel. I was more using a claw to break open the peel and scooping out the inside, but still interesting to see. We also saw the Andean (spectacled) bears (Tremarctos ornatus) out in their yard. The two cubs were resting high up in a tree.

But the highlight, as always, were the giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), Mei, Tian, and Xiao Qi Ji were all out in their respective yards, enjoying some breakfast. There were crowds, but it wasn’t so crowded that you couldn’t get a good look at them sitting, eating, and ambling around. Watching them (only from the outside, we didn’t make it in to my old post inside the panda house), I could feel myself getting a little choked up. It’s been more than 19 years since I was a regular panda watcher (I only did maybe two shifts in the year after Celeste was born before officially withdrawing from the program), but the loss of the pandas is still emotional.

Celeste is in her second year of college. Quin is off to college herself next year. Evelin pointed out that maybe it’s a good time for me to start volunteering at the zoo again (though I’d need to scale back my other volunteer/unpaid work efforts to make the time) …

Safe journeys, 添添, 美香, and 小奇迹. You’ll be missed here in the DMV.

1 comment:

Margaret said...

Ah, I remembered you writing about Butterstick years ago, but I had forgotten your name!