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

  • U.S. lawmakers vote to allow internet providers to sell customers' browsing data

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- The House voted Tuesday to block online privacy regulations issued during the final months of the Obama administration, a first step toward allowing internet providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to sell the browsing habits of their customers. Source
  • Supermassive black holes give birth to stars, astronomers discover

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A team of astrophysicists has discovered that supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies aren't just destroyers of stars, but can also be their creators. Stellar black holes form from the collapse of a large star. Source
  • Fake toons: Kids falling prey to adult parodies of popular children's shows

    Tech & Science CTV News
    YouTube has a fake toons problem. Parent groups are sounding the alarm after thousands of seemingly kid-friendly YouTube videos were found to contain violent and sexual content, in cartoons made to look like shows such as "Peppa Pig" and "Doc McStuffins. Source
  • Carleton University students, staff urged to change passwords after key-logging devices found

    Tech & Science CTV News
    OTTAWA -- Carleton University is urging caution among staff and students after discovering potential hacking tools on a handful of classroom computers. The university says it discovered USB key-logging devices on six classroom computers across three university buildings. Source
  • Thai jungle seen as breeding ground for Indochinese tigers

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BANGKOK -- Conservationists say they have evidence that the critically endangered Indochinese tiger is breeding in a Thai jungle, giving hope for the survival of an animal whose total population may be less than 300. Source
  • Apple iOS update creates instant storage space

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Time to load up on HD movies and games. Apple device owners may find they suddenly have a lot more storage space for music, videos, photos and apps, thanks to an iOS update that improves the way data is processed and stored on all Apple devices. Source
  • Trump issues executive order rolling back Obama climate change policies

    Tech & Science CBC News
    President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order Tuesday aimed at moving forward on his campaign pledge to unravel former President Barack Obama's plan to curb global warming. The order will suspend, rescind or flag for review more than a half-dozen measures in an effort to boost domestic energy production in the form of fossil fuels. Source
  • Trump to issue executive order rolling back Obama climate change policies

    Tech & Science CBC News
    President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order Tuesday aimed at moving forward on his campaign pledge to unravel former President Barack Obama's plan to curb global warming. The order will suspend, rescind or flag for review more than a half-dozen measures in an effort to boost domestic energy production in the form of fossil fuels. Source
  • 'It's devastating': Documentary reveals 'streams' of water pollution from jean industry

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Those jeans you pull on before running out to the corner store were produced by one of the most toxic industries on the planet, according to a new documentary that explores how clothing manufacturers are poisoning the world's water supply. Source
  • Got camera? Facebook adds more Snapchat-like features

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Facebook is adding more Snapchat-like features to its app. The company says it wants to let people's cameras "do the talking" as more people are posting photos and videos instead of blocks of text. Source