Let them eat cake: Pandas devour snack to celebrate 50 years at National Zoo

WASHINGTON — The National Zoo’s most famous tenants enjoyed an icy treat Saturday as the zoo celebrated 50 years of its panda exchange agreement with the Chinese government.

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Giant panda Mei Xiang and her cub, Xiao Qi, were presented with a “fruitsicle cake” of diluted apple juice and pineapple juice Saturday morning at the facility in Washington, zoo officials said in a news release. The cake was decorated with a red “50,” along with sweet potatoes, apples, carrots, pears, sugar cane, bananas and yellow groove bamboo.

Xiao Qi Ji’s father, Tian Tian, sat out the morning breakfast, according to The Associated Press. However, he received a similarly adorned cake at about 1 p.m. EDT, zoo officials said in their news release.

The exchange of pandas began in 1972 with the arrival of two goodwill ambassador pandas named Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, The Washington Post reported. Their arrival included an official from first lady Pat Nixon, according to the newspaper.

During Saturday’s ceremony, the sounds of Tian Tian munching on his dessert could be heard as Chinese ambassador Qin Gang spoke to the assembled crowd, the AP reported. The ambassador praised the bears as “a symbol of the friendship” between the U.S. and China.

Through Aug. 27, the National Zoo will hold online and on-site events in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the giant panda program. Details on the events are available on the zoo’s website.

The zoo was one of the first Smithsonian sites to return to a daily operating schedule, the Post reported. Admission remains free, but visitors still need to reserve daily passes, which can be claimed up to 30 days in advance.