Washington zoo's panda cub thriving ahead of January debut

WASHINGTON (AP) — If the youngest giant panda cub at the National Zoo is stressed out about appearing in front of crowds for the first time, he isn't showing it.

See Full Article

Keepers were expecting Bei Bei to squawk and squirm during an audience with a small news media contingent Monday. Instead, under bright television lights with cameras clicking, he quickly fell asleep on an examination table, leaving a small puddle of drool on the tablecloth.

Panda biologist Laurie Thompson explained that before he went in front of the cameras, Bei Bei was playing with a piece of bamboo and trying to walk. Just like a newborn human, he tires easily.

"I'm very proud of him," Thompson said. "Obviously, he wasn't too bothered by all the people here. This is just the beginning for him as far as people go."

Bei Bei is ready for his close-up. The cub will make a few appearances before selected audiences ahead of his public debut on Jan. 16, when the panda house will reopen. That's also around the time Bei Bei will be sure enough on his feet that he'll get to venture into the outdoor panda habitat for the first time.

Pandas are famously helpless at birth: pink, hairless, blind, and about the size of a stick of butter. Bei Bei, who was a twin — his brother did not survive — weighed just 4 ounces when he was born. Now, at nearly 4 months, he's 17.5 pounds of fur, muscle, claws and teeth. He's gaining about a pound a week — he's bigger than either of his siblings were at the same age — and is hitting every developmental milestone.

He's one of four pandas at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, along with his mother, Mei Xiang (may SHONG), his father, Tian Tian (t-YEN t-YEN), and his 2-year-old sister, Bao Bao (Bow Bow). The pandas belong to China, and after they turn 4, Bao Bao and then Bei Bei will return to China and join the breeding program there.

Giant pandas are endangered, with roughly 1,800 living in the wild and 350 in captivity, which means Bei Bei and his sister are being counted on to help perpetuate the species.

Zoo staffers hope that by the time Bei Bei leaves, they'll have another young panda to care for. Mei Xiang, who has given birth to three surviving cubs, is scheduled to be artificially inseminated again in 2017.

Pandas have been the star attraction at the National Zoo since China gave the United States a pair of the black-and-white bears after president Richard Nixon's historic visit in 1972. Efforts to breed them in captivity were long met with frustration, but the survival rate has improved dramatically in the past 20 years.

Throughout his nearly 30-minute appearance before reporters and photographers, keepers and veterinarians stroked Bei Bei's thick, bristly fur, and he protested only when they tried to open his mouth to count his teeth.

The intensely hands-on approach the zoo takes with Bei Bei is different from the way most animals are treated there. It's not just because he's cute. Because his ability to reproduce is critically important to the survival of his species, Bei Bei will have to interact with humans frequently.

"He's in for a life that's very hands-on, especially when he goes back to China," said Brandie Smith, the zoo's associate director of animal care sciences. "Our goal is to make him very comfortable in this kind of situation."

For the zoo staff, the tension and sleepless nights that accompanied Bei Bei's first weeks of life have been replaced by the joy of watching him grow.

"We have such an incredible opportunity to observe these beautiful endangered species as they grow and develop," Thompson said. "Every day is a treasure."



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Apple confirms it has killed the iPod Shuffle and Nano

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Tech giant Apple has confirmed the death of two of its legacy iPod models today - the iPod Shuffle and iPod Nano. Both models have been officially discontinued and were removed from the Apple store on Thursday, eliminating the two last versions of its music players not capable of running iOS apps. Source
  • Take a look at the pollution-fighting forest city being built in smog-choked China

    Tech & Science CTV News
    A smog-fighting forest city designed to scrub the air of pollutants with its one million plants and trees is currently under development in southern China. At first glance, artist renderings for Liuzhou Forest City evoke images of a futuristic city invaded by jungle overgrowth. Source
  • First editing of human embryos carried out in United States

    Tech & Science CBC News
    U.S. scientists have for the first time altered the genes of human embryos — a controversial step toward someday helping babies avoid inherited diseases. Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland believe they have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases, according to MIT Technology Review, which first reported the news…
  • August total solar eclipse a boon for cities, businesses across parts of U.S.

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Millions of eyes will be fixed on the sky when a total solar eclipse crosses the U.S. in August, and it's likely many of them will be safely behind the special glasses churned out by a Tennessee company. Source
  • Oregon scientists do first human gene embryo editing in U.S.

    Tech & Science CTV News
    For the first time in the United States, scientists have edited the genes of human embryos, a controversial step toward someday helping babies avoid inherited diseases. According to MIT Technology Review, the experiment was just an exercise in science -- the embryos were not allowed to develop for more than a few days and were never intended to be implanted into a womb. Source
  • Fisheries officials hope to examine dead right whale that washed ashore in N.L.

    Tech & Science CTV News
    ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Federal Fisheries officials are hoping to examine the latest North Atlantic right whale to be found dead on the East Coast. They say they will try to get to a site in western Newfoundland where the carcass washed ashore, but didn't specify the exact location. Source
  • 'Secret garden' filled with rare species open after century

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TRUCKEE, Calif. -- Pink and yellow wildflowers burst from a lush bed of grass hidden from public view for more than a century. Towering trees and snow-capped mountains encircle the wild meadow, beckoning visitors to a largely untouched piece of California's Sierra Nevada. Source
  • GM salmon project for P.E.I. will face environmental assessment, McKenna says

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CHARLOTTETOWN -- The federal government says a proposal to produce the world's first genetically modified salmon for human consumption in P.E.I. will face environmental assessment. In a letter to a group of environmental lobby groups, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says any plan by AquaBounty Technologies to manufacture or grow out its AquAdvantage salmon at Rollo Bay, P.E.I. Source
  • Federal minister says GM salmon project for P.E.I. requires assessment

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CHARLOTTETOWN -- The federal government says a proposal to produce the world's first genetically modified salmon for human consumption in P.E.I. will face environmental assessment. In a letter to a group of environmental lobby groups, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says any plan by AquaBounty Technologies to grow its AquAdvantage salmon at Rollo Bay, P.E.I. Source
  • Tips from the pros: How to organize apps on your phone

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Do you order your most-used apps at the bottom of your smartphone’s screen? Are they lined up along the side for your dominant thumb’s convenience? Maybe they’re neatly packed away in folders? Or perhaps, there’s no method to your madness and your icons are placed entirely at random on your device? Source