The Celebrity At The Zoo
National Geographic Magazine India|September 2020
Almost everybody loves Pandas. After a year documenting a newborn cub, a photographer remembers when she did too.
Rebecca Hale

In almost every photo from our 1986 family vacation to Washington, D.C., I am showing off the souvenir I picked out from the gift shop at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo—a white, oversize, cotton sweatshirt with puff-paint pandas dancing on the front. I was nine years old, and pandas were cool. Not even midsummer heat could deter me from keeping that sweatshirt on throughout the trip.

I remember very little from the vacation, aside from the thrill of being at the zoo and seeing the giant pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing—star attractions on the tourist circuit. The following year Ling-Ling gave birth to twin cubs. The babies didn’t survive, but I don’t remember learning that as a kid.

Nearly 30 years later I found myself in the midst of a pool of photojournalists and video crews packed into the panda enclosure. A small cub named Bei Bei was being presented to the world, and I was covering it for National Geographic. The closest I’d come to photographing a subject that generated this level of frenzied enthusiasm was when Angelina Jolie visited the National Geographic Society headquarters for an event.

I confess that my childhood love of pandas hadn’t lasted. I lived in D.C. by then. The pandas were just another item to mark off the tourist checklist, and photographing a new cub was part of my job. But I also had children, and, as most parents in the Washington area do, I’d take them regularly to the National Zoo.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE INDIAView All

A YEAR ON THE EDGE

A DEADLY VIRUS. LIVES IN LOCKDOWN. PASSIONATE CALLS FOR JUSTICE. THE IMAGES OF 2020 CAPTURED THE HUMANITY OF A TURBULENT TIME.

10+ mins read
National Geographic Magazine India
January 2021

Celebrating in the Pandemic

WE’RE MISSING HOLIDAY CLOSENESS JUST WHEN WE NEED IT MOST. BUT EVEN GRIM, UNCERTAIN TIMES HOLD SPARKS OF LOVE AND LIGHT.

7 mins read
National Geographic Magazine India
December 2020

THE BACKSTORY

PUTTING ARTIFICIAL LIGHT IN A NATURAL ENVIRONMENT ADDS AN ILLUMINATING KIND OF AWE.

1 min read
National Geographic Magazine India
September 2020

ERIKA CUÉLLAR SOTO

She helps Indigenous people protect the ‘magic’ of their lands. When Bolivian conservation biologist Erika Cuéllar Soto saw the sunrise over the Gran Chaco for the first time, in 1997, she knew she was somewhere special.

1 min read
National Geographic Magazine India
September 2020

The Celebrity At The Zoo

Almost everybody loves Pandas. After a year documenting a newborn cub, a photographer remembers when she did too.

4 mins read
National Geographic Magazine India
September 2020

The Cost Of Harming Nature

The pandemic proves it: By damaging the planet, we have sapped nature’s power to protect us from diseases.

6 mins read
National Geographic Magazine India
September 2020

Meet The Machines In Our Future

Humankind has a complicated relationship with robots. On one hand, we appreciate how they can do dangerous, repetitive work so we don’t have to.

2 mins read
National Geographic Magazine India
September 2020

When Virtual Life Turns Into Quarantine

MY GENERATION THRIVES IN THE VIRTUAL WORLD. BUT WHEN COVID-19 CUT US OFF FROM THE PHYSICAL WORLD, SOMETHING WAS LOST

6 mins read
National Geographic Magazine India
August 2020

What We Don't Learn From History

IT’S APPARENTLY humankind’s fate never to stop writing the history of pandemics. No matter how often they occur—and they do occur with great frequency—we collectively refuse to think about them until circumstances demand it.

1 min read
National Geographic Magazine India
August 2020

WATER EVERYWHERE AND NOWHERE

A 2,400-MILE TREK ACROSS INDIA REVEALS THE MYSTICAL LURE OF ITS SACRED RIVERS—ANDA CRISIS THAT THREATENS A WAY OF LIFE.

10+ mins read
National Geographic Magazine India
August 2020
RELATED STORIES

Manila locks down 6 barangays

The Manila city government will place six barangays under lockdown for four days to help contain the spread of COVID-19, Mayor Isko Moreno announced yesterday.

2 mins read
The Philippine Star
March 16, 2021

Pandacan church gets new image of Sto. Niño

A new Sto. Niño image sculpted from a wooden beam that survived the fire that struck Pandacan church in July last year was unveiled yesterday as the Catholic faithful joined the feast of the Child Jesus in Manila.

1 min read
The Philippine Star
January 18, 2021

REFLECTIONS ON PURITY

What does it mean to have a mind like crystal? Gurudev explains, “A pure crystal assumes the color of the light reflected in it. Likewise, the soul in you comes to reflect the Divinity. Even the senses come to reflect Divinity and become totally active. When you look at the mountain, it reminds you of the Self, the Consciousness. You see a flower and it reminds you of the Consciousness.

2 mins read
Rishimukh
December 2020

Waste Classification Gaining Momentum

AFTER the revised regulation on domestic waste classification came into force in Beijing on May 1 this year, waste sorting has gained renewed public attention.

4 mins read
China Today (English)
September 2020

Following The Steps Of The Pandavas

Soon after the Mahabharata war, when Lord Krishna left his body and ascended to his abode in Vaikunt, Sage Ved Vyas advised the Pandava brothers, that they renounce the kingdom. Yudhishthira crowned his nephew as the King of Hastinapura and the Pandavas along with their wife Draupadi, embarked on a journey to the Heavens. They set on foot to climb Mount Sumeru. In the last leg of their journey, the Pandavas went through Rishikesh and climbed the Swargarohini Mountain, enroute to Mount Sumeru.

3 mins read
Rishimukh
September 2020

La celebridad del zoológico

Casi todos aman a los pandas. Tras un año de documentar un cachorro recién nacido, una fotógrafa recuerda cuando también los amaba.

6 mins read
National Geographic en Español
Septiembre 2020

Layered Living

Airy and spacious, this condominium unit puts a spotlight on the home’s carefully curated furniture using a neutral colour palette.

8 mins read
SquareRooms
September 2020

Layered Living

Airy and spacious, this condominium unit puts a spotlight on the home’s carefully curated furniture using a neutral colour palette.

6 mins read
SquareRooms
September 2020

कांचीपुरम में पांडवथूर पेरुमल मंदिर

तमिलनाडु के कांचीपुरम में सबसे पुराने मंदिरों में से एक, भगवान विश्व कृष्ण को उनके विश्वरूप रूप को समर्पित है। आइये जानते हैं ...

1 min read
Rishimukh Hindi
April 2020

Making the Pandavas Come Alive

Honoured with the Padma Vibhushan last year, Chhatisgarh’s Teejan Bai is known for her unique style of narrating the mythological tale of the Mahabharata.

4 mins read
Dignity Dialogue
June 2020