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

  • Agreement reached to end strike by video-game voice actors

    Tech & Science CTV News
    LOS ANGELES -- Video-game voice actors have agreed to end a nearly yearlong strike against several major gaming publishers. The actors union SAG-AFTRA and a representative for the publishers said Monday they reached a tentative agreement on Saturday to end the strike. Source
  • Personality study finds fish have hidden depths

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Fish have complex individual personalities, a British university study found in research published Monday. Scientists from Exeter University in southwest England studied how individual Trinidadian guppy fish behaved in various stressful situations and discovered wide differences in how they responded. Source
  • Global accounting firm Deloitte hacked

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Global accounting firm Deloitte said on Monday it was the victim of a cyberattack that affected the data of a small number of clients, providing few details on the breach. Deloitte said in a statement that attackers accessed data from the company's email platform, confirming some details in a report by the Guardian newspaper, which broke news of the hack on Monday. Source
  • London studying ways to reduce new fatberg under Chinatown

    Tech & Science CTV News
    LONDON -- British engineers are studying ways to dispose of yet another oversize "fatberg" threatening London's aged sewers. Stuart White of Thames Water says the latest fat blob is located in a busy area beneath Chinatown near London's famed Leicester Square. Source
  • Invasive grass carp threatening Lake Erie

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TOLEDO, Ohio -- Researchers have fresh evidence that invasive grass carp are swimming and spawning near the mouth of a river that flows into Lake Erie. Their next step is figuring out how to stop it from gaining a foothold and devouring wetland plants along the shoreline and underwater vegetation in the lake that shelters native fish. Source
  • Australia to create its own space agency

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CANBERRA, Australia -- Australia announced on Monday it would create its own space agency to increase its share of the $330 billion space economy. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the agency would be part of Australia's development of an innovation and science economy. Source
  • 7 right whales entangled this summer, new data shows

    Tech & Science CBC News
    New figures show at least seven North Atlantic right whales got entangled in fishing gear in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this summer, and two died as a result. Two of the whales were freed by rescuers, including Joe Howlett, who was killed during one of the missions. Source
  • Astronomers discover an asteroid is actually two — and that it's also a comet

    Tech & Science CBC News
    When is an asteroid not just an asteroid? When it's a comet. Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have found that an asteroid discovered in 2006 is actually two — and that it sprouts a tail just like a comet. Source
  • The Long Dark is a fiercely Canadian video game. Why aren't there more like it?

    Tech & Science CBC News
    You've crashed your plane into the side of a mountain on a remote island in the Canadian north. Your partner is nowhere to be found. A geomagnetic disaster has rendered phones, radios and all other electronic equipment inoperable. Source
  • Something new under the sun: A binary asteroid that's also a comet

    Tech & Science CBC News
    When is an asteroid not just an asteroid? When it's a comet. Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have found that an asteroid discovered in 2006 is actually two — and that it sprouts a tail just like a comet. Source