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This week's severe winter storm, which dumped record amounts of snow in the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, had most residents scrambling for the safety and warmth of their homes. However, the animals at the Smithsonian's National Zoo were not going to let Washington, DC's first significant snowfall in two years go to waste.
The zoo's adult giant pandas — 22-year-old Mei Xiang and 23-year-old Tian Tian — were the first to venture out to frolic in the fresh powder. In a video released by officials on February 1, 2021, the two are seen sliding downhill, doing somersaults, and just having a good time playing in the icy precipitation.
Tian Tian journeyed out on his own the following day and joyfully rolled around in the snow with a ball. Zoo officials say Xiao Qi Ji, the latest addition to the giant panda family, also went out to experience his first snowfall. However, the five-month-old cub did not seem to enjoy the frosty weather and lasted for only about five minutes before scampering back to his cozy shelter.
On loan from the Chinese government since 2000, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian were scheduled to be returned to China at the end of 2020. However, the National Zoo obtained an extension to let the iconic giant pandas remain in Washington, DC, until December 2023. At that time, they, along with baby Xiao Qi Ji, will leave for the Wolong National Nature Reserve in China's Sichuan Province.
The giant pandas were not the only National Zoo residents to enjoy the almost 3 inches of fresh snow. Female red pandas Asa and Chris-Anne also had fun foraging for the fresh blueberries sprinkled around their habitat by the zookeepers.
Native to high altitude bamboo forests in Asia, red pandas are neither bears nor raccoons — which they closely resemble. Instead, they belong to their own family, Ailuridae. The adorable creatures' population in the wild has declined by about 50 percent over the past two decades due to habitat loss caused by logging and human development. They are currently on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "endangered” list.
Though the zoo's guinea pigs did not venture out of their warm abode, they did enjoy a special icy enrichment meal — snowmen infused with fruit juice and decorated with slivers of some of their favorite vegetables! If the video is any indication, the rodents thoroughly enjoyed the unexpected treat.
Resources: Smithsonianmag.com, nationalzoo.si.edu