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National Zoo Runs Low on Bamboo Supply

The National Zoo seeks bamboo from stands that comprise a minimum of one acre, are within 25 to 30 miles driving distance from the zoo, are at least 100 feet from roadways and have not been treated with herbicides or pesticides.
The National Zoo seeks bamboo from stands that comprise a minimum of one acre, are within 25 to 30 miles driving distance from the zoo, are at least 100 feet from roadways and have not been treated with herbicides or pesticides. (Courtesy of the National Zoo)

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By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 14, 2009; 12:35 PM

Do you have a grove of bamboo that is taking over your property -- at least an acre or more?

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The National Zoo might come to your rescue.

The zoo this morning is issuing a public appeal for bamboo to feed its famous giant pandas. For a combination of reasons, the zoo's supply of the crunchy green stalks are critically low, and zoo officials said they might not have enough to last the winter.

One problem is that the zoo now has three more or less adult-sized giant pandas -- the main consumers of its bamboo. At 160 pounds, 3-year-old Tai Shan is no longer a cub, and his parents, 275-pound Tian Tian and 250-pound Mei Xiang, are ravenous grown-ups. They scarf up bamboo 12 to 14 hours a day, consuming some 1,400 pounds of the stuff a week.

Bamboo is also eaten to a lesser extent by the zoo's raccoon-sized red pandas, and by the three elephants and six adult and adolescent gorillas, the zoo said.

The zoo said in a statement that it normally harvests about 75,000 pounds of bamboo a year from its grounds in Washington, its Conservation Research Center in Front Royal, Va., and private residences in Virginia, Maryland and the District.

The bamboo on the zoo grounds is annually cut back and usually regrows, the zoo said. This year, for reasons unknown, the normally tenacious species did not grow back.

As a result, more needs to be found.

The zoo is looking for bamboo stands that are a minimum of an acre, lie within a 25- to 30-mile driving distance of the zoo, are at least 100 feet from a roadway and have not been treated with herbicides or pesticides.

Don Moore, the zoo's associate director for animal care, said bamboo grown near roads often is contaminated by pollutants. "We need clean stuff," he said.

Any species will be okay, the zoo said, but the best kind is that of the Phyllostachys genus, identified by a prominent vertical stem groove and a white ring underneath the stem's nodes.

Anyone with bamboo in these quantities can contact the zoo's Department of Animal Nutrition at NZPBamboo@si.edu or at 202-633-4098.

The zoo said it hopes to work with landowners to manage and harvest their bamboo over time.


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