Smithsonian’s National Zoo Seeks Bamboo for Pandas


National Zoo giant pandas photo by Michael Nichols/NGS

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., appealed this week to local landowners and farmers to provide bamboo to feed to the zoo’s pandas and other animals.

“The zoo will accept any species of bamboo, but it is most interested in species of the Phyllostachys genus, which can be identified by two characteristics: a prominent groove running vertically along each segment of the stem and a white ring underneath the stem’s nodes,” the zoo said in a statement.


The zoo is experiencing a critical and unexpected shortage of its bamboo supply. “Bamboo stands are not regrowing as they normally would,” the statement said. “The reasons are as yet unknown, but nutritionists hope for better regrowth of all of the stands this spring.”

Photo credit: Smithsonian’s National Zoo

About 75,000 pounds of bamboo are harvested a year for the zoo’s giant pandas, red pandas, Asian elephants, gorillas and other animals. The giant pandas alone are offered 1,400 pounds of bamboo a week.


Bamboo is grown onsite and at several other locations: at the zoo’s Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia, and at private residences within Washington, D.C., and nearby in Virginia and Maryland.

If the zoo cannot locate additional stands, it will resort to harvesting bamboo from scant stands around various animal exhibits on zoo property.

The zoo is seeking only those bamboo stands that meet the following criteria:

  • Comprise a minimum of one acre
  • Are within a 25- to 30-mile driving distance of the zoo
  • Are at least 100 feet from a roadway
  • Have not been treated with herbicides or pesticides

Landowners who grow bamboo that meets these criteria can contact the National Zoo’s Department of Animal Nutrition at or (202) 633-4098.

Zoo nutritionists will meet with selected landowners to inspect their bamboo and discuss the zoo’s bamboo-management practices. The zoo will also take samples to analyze nutrient levels and test for the presence of heavy metals.

Ideally, the Zoo is hoping to work with landowners to manage and harvest their bamboo over time, the statement said.

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