Zoo panda Mei Xiang marks 19th with a treat

Cake nib­bling de­lights fans; keep­ers wait, watch for baby signs

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - THE DISTRICT BY MARTIN WEIL martin.weil@wash­post.com

One of Wash­ing­ton’s best­known teenagers cel­e­brated a birthday on Satur­day, at a time of great cu­rios­ity about her.

As it is of­ten phrased in the gos­sip col­umns, the ques­tion is this: “Is she or isn’t she?” Mei Xiang, one of the Na­tional Zoo’s giant pan­das, was ar­ti­fi­cially in­sem­i­nated on May 25, and now it is a mat­ter of wait and see.

In time, keep­ers ex­pect be­hav­ior changes, al­tered hor­mone lev­els and ul­tra­sound test­ing. But for now, a keeper said, the an­i­mal celebrity was “do­ing her nor­mal rou­tine,” in­ter­rupted slightly on Satur­day for her 19th birthday.

To mark the oc­ca­sion, the beloved bear re­ceived an elab­o­rate frozen treat. Wit­nesses said it seemed to hit the spot on a sul­try sum­mer day.

“It was amaz­ing,” said Amy Rus­sian, a panda en­thu­si­ast who went to the zoo specif­i­cally to ob­serve the cel­e­bra­tion of Mei’s birthday.

“She spent an hour and 45 min­utes on that cake,” Rus­sian said.

It was clear, Rus­sian said, “that she was happy about it.”

An­other wit­ness used Face­book to de­liver com­ments di­rectly to the birthday girl: “Mei, I have never seen any an­i­mal en­joy a birthday cake as much as you are en­joy­ing your beau­ti­ful treat to­day.

“Happy Birthday, and many more!”

It was not just any cake that was of­fered to the panda.

Atop and along the sides of a frozen rec­tan­gu­lar block were a va­ri­ety of cus­tom-made adorn­ments, in­clud­ing a swirling pink rosette and snowflakes.

A par­tial list of in­gre­di­ents for cake and dec­o­ra­tions in­cluded ap­ple juice, beet-tinted water, sliced ap­ples and pears, plus fresh bam­boo leaves — stems re­moved — in ice.

But now, for a few weeks any­way, it is back to panda rou­tine for Mei. Ex­cept that she is see­ing the zoo and her many ad­mir­ers through the eyes of a 19-year-old.

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