Dutch Born Panda, Fan Xing, is Not a Boy

Born in 2020, the Netherlands’ first male panda cub Fan Xing celebrated his 2nd birthday last year in style. But after a recent medical exam, the Ouwehands Dierenpark Zoo has admitted they might not know the cub as well as they thought…

It turns out little Fan Xing is actually a girl.

During a recent health check up (under anesthesia) zoo staff were shocked to discover that the original assessment of the panda’s sex had been incorrect.

It might seem like an unlikely mistake for trained professionals to have made, but assessing a panda cub at birth is no easy take. 

Cubs can’t be taken from their mothers for long, so everything has to be done in record time, including checking their sex (which often takes lower priority than checking for warning signs of ill health). 

Add into this that the original checks are done without any anesthesia (think one very wriggly panda cub) and it’s understandable that mistakes do happen. 

giant panda fan xing hangs from a tree branch in their enclosure

The Ouwehands Dierenpark

Although Ouwehands Dierenpark is not the largest zoo in the Netherlands, it is the only place you will find Dutch Giant Pandas.

The Zoo was founded in the early 1930s, on the site of a chicken farm. After the farm’s business started to dry up, the owner decided to create a zoo on the site, travelling across Europe to secure animals to exhibit before opening the doors to the public in 1932.

In the nearly one hundred years since, Ouwehands Dierenpark has remained a major institution in the Netherlands. The park’s fortunes really changed in 2000 though, when it was purchased by Dutch billionaire Marcel Boekhoorn. 

Boekhoorn invested extensively in the Zoo, building many new enclosures and failities and hiring new staff. He also stated that his mission was to bring Giant Pandas to the Netherlands, an ambition he realized in 2017.

Partly thanks to Boekhoorn’s influence on the international stage, Dutch royalty visited China in 2015 on a diplomatic mission. It was during this visit that the Chinese president Xi Jingping agreed to a partnership with Ouwehands Dierenpark. 

China loaned two pandas to the zoo on a ten year agreement in 2017, male Wu Wen and female Xing Ya. Wu Wen and Xing Ya were sent as a breeding pair, with the hope that a new cub might be born in the Netherlands for the first time.

A map of the Ouwehand Dierenpark Zoo

What next for Fan Xing?

The young cub is destined to return to China, as the agreemennt between the two nations states that any cub must return to take part in the country’s breeding programmes from the age of 4.

Pandas reach sexual maturity at 4 years, so it’s normal for cubs to separate from their parents at this age.

It will be a sad loss for the Netherlands, but is a huge testament to the success of the international panda loaning and breeding programmes that bring together organizations from so many different countries.

Fan Xing will always carry the memories of the nation where she was born. Her name was voted on by the Dutch public when she was born and is inspired by one of the country’s most famous sons. 

‘Fan’ is part of the Chinese name for Vincent van Gogh and ‘Xing’ is Chinese for ‘star’ – a reference to the painter’s most famous work, Starry Night (see below).

Boy or girl, Fan Xing will be missed in the Netherlands and welcomed warmly home in China, where hopefully she will go on to have cubs of her own.

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