The National Zoo will bid farewell to pandas as the government shuts down next month.
Washington's National Zoo is honoring its three giant pandas with nine days of events ahead of their return to China, but stormy weather and a looming US government shutdown have put something of a damper on the celebrations. The to honor their legacy as animal ambassadors and beloved Washington icons drew a reduced crowd on Saturday due to torrential rain from Tropical Storm Ophelia, according to local news reports. Over the weekend, some of the zoo's outdoor events were cancelled, but it didn't deter some heartsier visitors from surrounding areas from flocking to the enclosure for a last glimpse at the threesome. It is planned to be returned to Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and their cub Xiao Qi Ji in early December. The male panda, Xiao Qi Ji, eats a frozen cake in his enclosure at the National Zoo in Washington on Monday. The coming week will feature panda-themed film screenings, concerts, lectures, yoga, arts and craft activities, and Tasty celebratory treats provided by the Chinese embassy in Washington, according to the zoo's website.
The celebrations could end a day earlier than planned, if Congress does not provide funding for the financial year beginning on October 1, because of a dispute between far-right Republicans and other lawmakers. The Smithsonian Institution's zoo is operated by the Smithsonian Institution, which receives federal funding, and will be forced to close to the public during a government shutdown, according to its website. The closure would not disrupt animal care, but the zoo's popular live animals would go dark. Thai critics urge the government to let China pandas live in 'natural habitat', with mei Xiang, 25, and Tian Tian, 26, arriving at the zoo in 2000 under a cooperative research and breeding agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association. The pandas were originally meant to last 10 years, but the agreement has been renewed three times since 2010. China's panda program started in 1972, when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai donated two pandas to the United States soon after President Richard Nixon's historic visit to China that year. The zoo said it had no immediate plans to acquire more pandas, but said on its website that it 'hopes to continue this work in the future'.