Panda cub is ready for public debut Animal keeper Stacey Tabellario holds Bei Bei, the National Zoo's newest panda and offspring of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, as he is presented to members of the media at the National Zoo in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Panda cub is ready for public debut
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If the youngest giant panda cub at the National Zoo in Washington is stressed out about appearing in front of crowds for the first time, he isn't showing it.
 
Keepers were expecting Bei Bei (pronounced BAY BAY) to squawk and squirm during an audience with a small news media contingent Dec. 14. 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."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why hasn't Bei Bei been put on public display yet?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (29)
  • TehyaWhite-Ste
    1/08/2016 - 10:23 p.m.

    I'm glad he didn't freak out because he's just a baby and it's not fair for him to be put under so much pressure and stress just because people think he's cute.

  • coled-fel
    2/03/2016 - 02:14 p.m.

    CTQ: Bei Bei may not be on display yet because of the rate of Giant pandas, with there being only 1,800 Giant pandas in the wild. There are also 350 Giant pandas in captivity.

  • jacih-fel
    2/03/2016 - 02:16 p.m.

    Because they were afraid he would freakout and they did not want him to be put under so much pressure.

  • lucasp-fel
    2/03/2016 - 02:16 p.m.

    he hasn't been put out yet because it was too young

  • ethanw-fel
    2/03/2016 - 02:16 p.m.

    Bei Bei hasn't been put on display yet because the panda is so young and it might get stressed out.

  • garretta-fel
    2/03/2016 - 02:17 p.m.

    Bei Bei hasn't been put on public display yet because since his species is so critically endangered zookeepers are trying to keep him alive long enough to go back to China and help reproduce the species.

  • ethany-fel
    2/03/2016 - 02:17 p.m.

    Bei Bei hasn't been put on public display yet because first they had to get him healthy

  • lances-fel
    2/03/2016 - 02:18 p.m.

    Bei Bei hasn't been put on public display yet because his ability to reproduce is critical because his species is endangered.

  • johnj-fel
    2/03/2016 - 02:18 p.m.

    Bei Bei hasn't been put on public display yet because he's so young and they were expecting him to be stage frightened.

  • mattv-fel
    2/03/2016 - 02:18 p.m.

    Bei Bei hasn't been put on public display because they weren't fully sure how he would react, because they only put him in front of few select people.

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