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

  • New Zealand law student launches climate change court case

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- A New Zealand law student is taking the government to court over its climate change policies in hopes of forcing it to set more ambitious targets. Sarah Thomson is challenging the government over commitments that include a pledge under the Paris climate accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Source
  • SpaceX launches 10 satellites from California air base

    Tech & Science CTV News
    LOS ANGELES -- A SpaceX rocket carried 10 communications satellites into orbit from California on Sunday, two days after the company successfully launched a satellite from Florida. The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off through low-lying fog at 1:25 p.m. Source
  • Why this conservation group thinks soiled undies are a good thing

    Tech & Science CTV News
    One of the best things about summer is the fresh selection of fruits and vegetables available throughout the warm months. But a strange crop with far less nutritional value has a Canadian conservation group excited for the season. Source
  • Rising right whale death toll could be "catastrophic": marine biologist

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MONCTON, N.B. - A marine mammal expert says the fate of critically endangered species could hang in the balance as the death toll of North Atlantic right whales found floating in the Gulf of St. Source
  • Giant sequoia move on schedule in Idaho, tree doing well

    Tech & Science CTV News
    BOISE, Idaho -- A massive Idaho tree that grew over more than a century from a seedling sent by a noted naturalist has been uprooted and is poised to travel about two blocks Sunday to a new location. Source
  • Medical marijuana woos four-legged fans

    Tech & Science CTV News
    It's early morning, just after breakfast, and six-year-old Cayley is wide awake, eagerly anticipating her daily dose of cannabis. The black labrador, tail wagging, laps up the liquid tincture owner Brett Hartmann squirts into her mouth, a remedy he uses morning and evening to help alleviate Cayley's anxiety. Source
  • Fisheries Dept. dispatches aircraft, boats to study right whale deaths

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MONCTON, N.B. - Fisheries officials are trying to figure out what caused the recent deaths of several endangered right whales in the waters off eastern Canada. The Fisheries Department is raising concern about the deaths of at least five North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Source
  • Surge in unexplained right whale deaths prompts government response

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MONCTON, N.B. -- The federal fisheries department is trying to figure out what caused the recent deaths of several endangered right whales in the waters off eastern Canada. A fisheries official says at least five North Atlantic right whales were found dead in the Gulf of St. Source
  • Panda mania hits Germany as Meng Meng, Jiao Qing arrive

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Germany was bracing for panda mania as furry ambassadors arrive from China on Saturday, destined for a new life as stars of Berlin's premier zoo. The pair, named Meng Meng and Jiao Qing, will be jetting in on a special Lufthansa cargo plane, accompanied by two Chinese panda specialists, the Berlin Zoo's chief vet and a tonne of bamboo. Source
  • Google to stop scanning Gmail for ad targeting

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Google said Friday it would stop scanning the contents of Gmail users' inboxes for ad targeting, moving to end a practice that has fueled privacy concerns since the free email service was launched. A Google statement said Gmail users would still see "personalized" ads and marketing messages but these would be based on other data, which may include search queries or browsing habits. Source