Two Pandas Arrive at the San Diego Zoo, the First to Enter the U.S. in 21 Years

For months, the only pandas in the country had been in Atlanta. Next, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are expected to also receive pandas this year

A panda chews on bamboo
Yun Chuan is "serious about his bamboo but mild-mannered toward others," according to the San Diego Zoo. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

A pair of giant pandas arrived at the San Diego Zoo from China last Thursday, marking the first time in 21 years that giant pandas have entered the United States.

The two pandas, Yun Chuan and Xin Bao, will not be visible to the public for several weeks as they acclimate to their new home, according to a statement from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Yun Chuan, an almost 5-year-old male, is the son of a panda born at the San Diego Zoo in 2007. Xin Bao is female and nearly 4 years old, per the Associated Press.

Yun Chuan, whose name means “big river of cloud,” has a long, slightly pointy nose. His caretakers in China describe him as kind, clever and sensitive, and he would hum to get their attention. Xin Bao has a large, round face and fluffy ears. She’s reportedly active and witty, a strong climber and a bit of a playful roughhouser with other pandas.

A 2014 census found that there were 1,864 giant pandas living in the wild—a low, albeit increasing number, as only around 1,000 pandas were alive in the late 1970s. In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature upgraded giant pandas’ extinction risk from “endangered” to “vulnerable,” reflecting the species’ positive progress.

Currently, the Atlanta Zoo, home to four giant pandas, is the only place in the U.S. with giant pandas on view. In May, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute announced it will receive two pandas from China by the end of the year. The zoo’s previous pandas returned to China last November, marking the first time in 23 years that the nation’s capital has been panda-free. The San Francisco Zoo will also welcome pandas later this year.

Between 1996 and 2019, the San Diego Zoo housed nine pandas, according to Axios’ Kate Murphy.

Leaders of the zoo and San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria attended a farewell ceremony for the pandas alongside U.S. and Chinese dignitaries in China’s Sichuan province last week.

“We are incredibly excited to welcome Yun Chuan and Xin Bao to the San Diego Zoo,” Paul Baribault, president and CEO of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, says in the statement. “This farewell celebrates their journey and underscores a collaboration between the United States and China on vital conservation efforts. Our long-standing partnership with China Wildlife Conservation Association has been instrumental in advancing giant panda conservation, and we look forward to continuing our work together to ensure the survival and thriving of this iconic species.”

Nutritionists and vets from China accompanied the pandas on their journey to the U.S. and will stay for three months to help the animals adjust to their new home, writes the Washington Post’s Jennifer Hassan. Caretaker Huang Shan has taught the pandas commands in English, according to ABC News’ Kelly McCarthy.

Captivity isn’t always easy on pandas. A 2023 study, for example, found that pandas are less active when living in latitudes different from their natural habitats.

But the San Diego Zoo says its partnership with the China Wildlife Conservation Association aims to improve the health and resilience of giant panda populations and protect the animals from extinction. And Chinese conservationists hope the effort will boost management of panda diseases, per the Washington Post. The conservation program at Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute studies panda behavior, health, nutrition, genetics, habitat and reproduction “to give pandas a brighter future in the wild and under human care.”

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.