When the couple landed at Dulles International Airport on Dec. 6, 2000, amid the popping flashbulbs of panda paparazzi, they were international pandas of mystery. The air of intrigue surrounding Mei Xiang and Tian Tian only increased when they welcomed a panda cub — Tai Shan — in July of 2005. Panda parents Mei Xiang and Tian Tian came to the National Zoo from the China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda in Sichuan, China, as part of a collaborative agreement between the zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. The National Zoo donated $10 million dollars to the CWCA toward funding research and preservation of China's wild panda habitat. In exchange, zoo researchers get to care for Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Tai Shan and share their findings with other scientists in China and the United States.
We've learned a lot over the years about these beautiful pandas and still have quite a lot to learn as they continue to grow and mature. Here are a few clues to mom and dad's personalities and how to tell them apart.
NAME: Mei Xiang (pronounced may-SHONG) means "beautiful fragrance" GENDER: Female BIRTHDAY: July 22, 1998 Mei Xiang, the feminine half of Washington's new power couple, has been described as tentative, taking care to investigate new environments and situations. When she first arrived at the National Zoo, she took her time before entering her enclosure. Smaller in stature than Tian Tian, Mei Xiang has distinctive markings, making her easy to spot. She wears black "stockings" that end at her hips; a black band across her shoulders that widens in the middle; and a faint black bar across the bridge of her nose. Although a little hesitant around new people and surroundings, Mei Xiang has no problem swiping food from her panda pal, Tian Tian.
NAME: Tian Tian (pronounced t-YEN t-YEN) means "more and more" GENDER: Male BIRTHDAY: Aug. 27, 1997 Tian Tian has made himself known as the bolder of the two pandas, walking right into the panda enclosure the night of his arrival and sitting front and center, munching biscuits, before the crowds during his and Mei Xiang's unveiling at the zoo. He is said to be more drawn to people and more food-motivated. Tian Tian also has distinctive markings: he sports black "knee socks"; a black band across his shoulders that narrows in the middle; and two faint black dots across the bridge of his nose. At his birthplace in China, he was known as an escape artist, adept at finding ways out of his enclosure.