Photos: The National Zoo’s Panda Babies Through the Years

The National Zoo's panda cubs have both broken hearts and delighted masses of fans. As we wait to learn whether Mei Xiang and Tian Tian will (or, sigh, won't), welcome another cub, relive some of their three cubs' cutest moments.

22 photos
Getty Images/Smithsonian's National Zoo/Smithsonian's National Zoo
Smithsonian Institution
Tai Shan surprised D.C.-area residents with his birth July 9, 2005 to the National Zoo's resident giant pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. He was their firstborn, and the first giant panda cub born at the zoo to ever survive to adulthood. A previous panda pair had five cubs over their years at the zoo, but one was stillborn and four others died shortly after birth. D.C. panda fans were used to tragedy, but Tai Shan turned the story around, thrilling zoo goers and panda cam watchers alike with his adorable antics.
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Tai Shan made his debut to the press Nov. 29, 2005. He weighed only 21 pounds at the time.
Panda keeper Laurie Perry carried Tai Shan out for the cameras during his first press appearance on Nov. 29, 2005.
Smithsonian Institution
Tai Shan even managed to smile during a doctor's appointment.
Smithsonian Institution
Tai Shan's early years provided tons of adorable photos.
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The zoo shared images of Tai playing in the snow.
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Then-first lady Laura Bush visited Tai Shan on Feb. 14, 2006.
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According to a deal between China and the U.S., all giant pandas originally from China are only on loan to foreign zoos, and any cubs they produce must move to China eventually. Tai Shan left for the Wolong Nature Reserve in China in early 2010.
Smithsonian's National Zoo
The National Zoo was cubless for several years after Tai Shan grew up. But on Aug. 23, 2013, Bao Bao made her grand arrival. Her birth was especially celebrated because it came a year after a long-awaited second cub had died. However, her arrival was also tinged with sadness, as she was born with a stillborn twin. Days after Bao Bao's birth, zookeepers praised mama Mei Xiang's dedication to her after Mei passed over snacking opportunities so she could continue to snuggle the new baby.
Smithsonian's National Zoo
Bao Bao was the source of many -- MANY -- adorable vet exam photos.
Smithsonian's National Zoo
During the 2013 government shutdown, the zoo's panda cam went dark. By the time the cam went live again, Bao Bao weighed almost five pounds and her eyes had begun to open.
Smithsonian Magazine
Bao Bao’s very first feature, in Smithsonian Magazine, showed off some gorgeous photos and shared weird panda facts. (Here's one: Pandas never actually evolved to eat bamboo, but have inexplicably lost their taste for meat.) The article also tried to sort out humans' obsession with pandas. The likely reason: Just look at them.
Smithsonian's National Zoo
Bao Bao had to put in some concentrated effort to learn how to crawl and then walk. Her hard work was evident on the zoo's panda cam in in November 2013.
Smithsonian's National Zoo
Like her older brother, Bao Bao eventually also moved to China. Pandas born in the U.S. generally move to China by age 4. Bao Bao was only 3 and a half when she left in February 2017, but keepers said it would be more comfortable for her to travel during cool weather.
On Aug. 22, 2015, Mei Xiang gave birth to a set of male twin cubs, but the smaller of the two died days later. The surviving cub would grow up to be named Bei Bei. Here he is at two and a half weeks old, heading toward the adorable "piglet" phase of panda babyhood (and yes, that is a made-up term).
Smithsonian's National Zoo
By the time he was six weeks old, the days of being tiny, hairless and helpless were gone! The cub now sported black-and-white fur and was wiggling around his den.
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With Bei Bei coming only two years after Bao Bao, D.C. panda fans were overloaded with cute panda experiences, and we soaked up every one of them.
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The plastic storage bin phase is, hands down, one of the cutest phases of panda cub development. Here's Bei Bei weighing in at about 9.5 pounds in early November 2015.
Smithsonian's National Zoo
How lucky do you have to be to hold up a panda cub?
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Here Bei Bei tries a new biscuit made by nutritionists out of sweet potato, leaf eater biscuits and bamboo.
Smithsonian's National Zoo
Is it just us, or does this look like it's supposed to be Bei Bei's school photo?
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