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Pandas and the government shutdown

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The nation's capital is saying goodbye to some of its most beloved residents - three giant pandas that have been on loan from China. Through the rest of the month, the National Zoo is throwing a Panda Palooza, a series of events to mark their departure. But as NPR's Emma Bowman reports, a looming government shutdown could cut short the celebrations.

EMMA BOWMAN, BYLINE: The sendoff celebrations give panda lovers one last chance to see the two panda parents and their 3-year-old son on American soil. Visitors from across the country have braved stormy weather in recent days in hopes of catching a final glimpse of the threesome. The pandas will leave the Washington, D.C., zoo by early December. Once they're gone, the zoo will be pandaless (ph) for the first time in 50 years. China first loaned pandas to the zoo as part of the country's so-called panda diplomacy. In 1972, first lady Pat Nixon first welcomed two pandas to the National Zoo. Pat recapped the arrival ceremony during a phone call to her husband, President Richard Nixon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAT NIXON: They're comic little things. You know, they...

RICHARD NIXON: Yeah. Yeah.

P NIXON: ...Act up.

R NIXON: Do they really?

P NIXON: Oh, yeah. They had a structure inside the cage, sort of wood, you know? And one of them climbed up there and sat up there and chewed his toast. He had cinnamon toast. It was a scream.

BOWMAN: The last day to see the pandas is also the deadline for Congress to pass a funding bill. If it doesn't, the government shuts down, and so too does the federally funded zoo. If you want to see pandas after that, you'll have to go to Atlanta. The zoo there is home to the last four giant pandas in the country. Meanwhile, back at the National Zoo, it seems no one has told the pandas about their goodbye. The three appear as content as ever, spending their remaining time frolicking in bamboo and munching on ice cakes. Emma Bowman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAC MILLER SONG, "DANG!") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.