While giant pandas that had long stayed at the National Zoo in D.C. left for China last week, Chicagoans can look back at how the first live panda in the country landed at Brookfield Zoo.
Why Did the US’ First Panda Arrive in Chicagoland?
In 1936, Pennsylvanian Ruth Harkness searched for pandas in China after her husband never returned from his expedition. That’s when she found a baby panda, Su-Lin.
Harkness tried to deliver Su-Lin to the Bronx Zoo, but the New Yorkers didn’t want to pay her $20,000 (over $400,000 today), the Tribune reported.
She agreed to leave Su-Lin at the Brookfield Zoo if the directors agreed to fund her next expedition.
Su-Lin Arrived in Chicagoland to Much Fanfare
Hundreds of thousands visited when Su-Lin arrived at the suburban zoo in 1937, including Shirley Temple and Helen Keller, the Sun-Times reported.
That was the beginning of the panda-monium: Harkness returned with Mei-Mei in ‘38. But weeks later, Su-Lin died after contracting pneumonia.
The National Zoo's giant pandas began their 19-hour journey back to China from Washington, D.C. on Nov. 8. (Michael S. Williamson / Washington Post / Getty)
What Else Should You Know?
Dubbed panda diplomacy, the Chinese government owns and loans all pandas in captivity and in the wild. But pandas in San Diego, Memphis, and now D.C. have all gone back — and the last ones in Atlanta are set to return next year.
+ Chicagoans can see the taxidermy of Su-Lin at the Field Museum.