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Tian Tian celebrates last birthday in DC before returning to China

This will be Tian Tian's last birthday in the District before all the pandas return to China at the end of the year.

WASHINGTON — D.C.'s oldest panda celebrated his 26th birthday Sunday, marking the final birthday Tian Tian will spend in the District. 

The Smithsonian National Zoo hosted a 90s-themed "rad dad" party for Tian Tian with a fruitsicle cake and plenty of bamboo. 

Birthday celebrations were also recently held for Mei Xiang who turned 25 in July, and Xiao Qi Ji who turned three on Aug. 21. Panda birthdays at the zoo are typically celebrated with a special frozen cake made with plenty of fruit. If you feel like making your own, there's a recipe on the Zoo's website.

Tian Tian, his longtime mate and his cub will all be leaving the National Zoo by December. Panda Palooza, a giant farewell celebration will be held at the Zoo Sept. 23 to Oct 1. 

Giant pandas have lived at the National Zoo since 1972 under a program meant to strengthen U.S.-Chinese relations. First Lady Patricia Nixon mentioned liking giant pandas to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai at a dinner in Beijing in February 1972, and a few months later, in April, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing were welcomed to D.C. 

While the pair mated several times and produced five cubs, none lived more than a few days. Ling-Ling passed away in 1992, and Hsing-Hsing followed in 1999. 

Mei Xiang, who became the oldest panda mother in North America birthing Xiao Qi Ji in August at the age of 22, and Tian Tian were both born at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda, and have lived at the National Zoo since Dec. 6, 2000. Mei Xiang has birthed four surviving cubs with Tian Tian: Tai Shan (2005), Bao Bao (2013), Bei Bei (2015) and Xiao Qi Ji (2020). Under the Zoo's current breeding agreement, cubs are raised in D.C. for four years and are then sent to China after they turn four. 

Unlike Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian have always been on loan to the Zoo. The original agreement, the Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement, said they would live at the Zoo for 10 years in exchange for $10 million. But then in Jan. 2011, the agreement was extended for the first time through 2015, which then became Dec. 7, 2020 under a second extension. The third extension added another three years to the panda's time in D.C. As of publication, that agreement has not been extended and the National Zoo has publicly stated that all pandas will be leaving at the end of the year. 

You can see the full panda timeline here

If you can't make it to the zoo for the fun, you can watch the festivities via the National Zoo's Giant Panda Cam

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