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."


Latest Tech & Science News

  • NASA spots 'pumpkin' stars and the 'ghostly' heart of a supernova

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Just in time for Halloween, NASA has released detailed images of some of its spookier recent space discoveries — including a patch of pumpkin-shaped stars and the still-beating heart of a supernova. The space agency's Kepler and Swift missions have discovered a group of spinning stars that produce X-rays at more than 100 times the peak levels ever seen from the sun. Source
  • Weeks after recalling bars, Soylent halts production of powder mix

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Weeks after recalling meal replacement bars that made some customers sick, Soylent has now halted production of its powder drink mix over similar reports. The U.S.-based company says it discovered the problem with its Powder 1.6 meal replacement while investigating why its Soylent Bars made some customers violently ill. Source
  • Iceland is poised to elect a party of hackers and internet-freedom activists

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The past few years have been stormy for Iceland, a country threatened by volcanoes and brought low by bankers. Now, Icelanders are thinking of putting their trust in pirates. Polls suggest the party — formed in 2012 by a group of anarchists, hackers and internet-freedom activists — is supported by as many as one in five voters and could emerge from Saturday's parliamentary election at the head of a new government. Source
  • LIVE blog: Tech companies show off innovations in Toronto

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Many Canadians dream of being a successful entrepreneur, inventor, and even the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. Today, many of those innovative Canadians are convening in Toronto for a one-day summit hosted by Google called Go North. Source
  • Family sues Amazon over hoverboard that burned $1M house

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NASHVILLE -- A family is suing Amazon for selling a hoverboard blamed for starting a fire that burned their $1 million home in Nashville. The Tennessean reports that the Fox family's lawsuit says Amazon had information about the dangers of the product before the Jan. Source
  • World's largest marine reserve created in Antarctic sea

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The countries that decide the fate of Antarctica's waters reached an historic agreement on Friday to create the world's largest marine protected area in the ocean next to the frozen continent. The agreement comes after years of diplomatic wrangling and high-level talks between the U.S. Source
  • 'This is history': International agreement creates vast Antarctic marine reserve

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The countries that decide the fate of Antarctica's waters reached an historic agreement on Friday to create the world's largest marine protected area in the ocean next to the frozen continent. The agreement comes after years of diplomatic wrangling and high-level talks between the U.S. Source
  • Images show Prince Harry working to help elephants in Malawi

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Photos Source
  • China goes from red-alert pollution to green energy

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The city of Foshan is in the middle of China's manufacturing heartland. It may be big and noisy, factories gushing consumer products and pollution, but its new city bus glides along almost silently, producing no pollution at all. Source
  • Cellphone use skyrockets. Bills jump. Time to be freed from data caps?

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Our cellphones are so much more than phones these days. They've become a lifeline, the way we connect to everything from banking and breaking news to the loved ones in our lives. So it likely comes as no surprise that wireless internet data usage continues to skyrocket in Canada, and that we're spending more to feed our habit. Source