Panda to make her debut
For months, visitors to the David Rubenstein Family Panda Habitat at the National Zoo in Washington have often been disappointed to find the pavilion closed for the sake of the breeding and nursing the new giant panda cub, whom many fans have been following on the 24/7 webcam since she was born on Aug 23.
Named Bao Bao on her 100th day birthday on Dec 1, she is finally getting ready to meet the public.
The zoo said visitors will be able to see Bao Bao starting Jan 18, but members of Friends of the National Zoo will have the privilege to visit earlier, from Jan 11-17. The amount of the time Bao Bao and her mother Mei Xiang will be on exhibit each year will still depend on the bears’ behavior and they might not be on show for long periods of time during the first few weeks, according to the zoo.
Zoo officials told the media that visitors will be asked to line up outside the giant panda habitat and be received on a first-come, first-served basis.
When Tai Shan, the zoo’s previous panda cub, was getting ready to meet the public in 2005, the zoo issued tickets online. All 13,000 tickets were snatched up in two hours. Tai Shan returned to China’s panda breeding base in early 2010.
At giant panda’s daily treat time around 1:30 pm on a sunny Thursday, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, the male panda and Bao Bao’s father, were chewing on bamboo sticks in their separate yards while a zookeeper came, calling their names and throwing popsicles wrapped in brown bags. It’s the best time of the day to view pandas outdoors and visitors were amused watching their funny eating manners.
Bao Bao has been breastfed by Mei Xiang since birth. So far, Bao Bao has shown significant progress in mobility, according to the zookeeper.
Bao Bao’s name was revealed at a ceremony at the zoo on Dec 1 after a public online vote drew 123,000 votes. Bao Bao, which means “precious treasure” in Chinese, beat four other names. China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan and US First Lady Michelle Obama both sent their video greetings.
The giant pandas are all on loan from China. According to the agreement, giant panda cubs born outside China also belong to China. And Bao Bao will be able to stay in the National Zoo for four years before it returns to China. A previous deal the National Zoo had with China allowed cubs to stay for only two years, but Tai Shan stayed two more years due to the devastating earthquake which hit China’s giant panda base in Sichuan in 2008.
There are only four zoos in the US that house giant pandas besides the National Zoo — San Diego, Atlanta and Memphis.
Giant pandas are among the world’s most endangered species and there are only about 1,600 of them living in the wild and some 300 living in captivity, mostly in China.
Panda cub Bao Bao and her mother Mei Xiang are seen in the pavilion of the David Rubenstein Family Panda Habit at the National Zoo in this Dec 13 photo.