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.  He left 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 he was 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.  That's when the panda house will reopen. It'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.  They are pink, hairless and blind. They are about the size of a stick of butter. Bei Bei 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 is bigger than either of his siblings were at the same age.  He is hitting every developmental milestone.
 
He's one of four pandas at the Smithsonian's National Zoo.  They include 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.  After they turn 4, Bao Bao and then Bei Bei will return to China and join the breeding program there.
 
Giant pandas are endangered.  Roughly 1,800 live in the wild.  About 350 are in captivity. It 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. Their hope is that Mei Xiang, who has given birth to three surviving cubs, will be able to give birth 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. That was 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.  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 (177)
  • jasminec-6-bar
    1/05/2016 - 08:11 p.m.

    Bei Bei has not been put on display yet because he was too young. When panda cubs are first brought into this world they "pink, hairless and blind" they are also said to be "the size of a stick of butter." When Bei Bei was first birthed he weighed a mere four ounces, all he could do was eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom, so he could not be displayed.
    I found this article very interesting because I loooovvveee pandas, adn I did not think yo could borrow a living thing.

  • kaleal-2-bar
    1/06/2016 - 12:26 a.m.

    Bei Bei has not been put on public display yet because he is still a little to young to be sure enough on his feet yet. And of course, they don't want him to get stressed out, although according to the article the panda seems fine around crowds of people. The workers at the zoo want to make sure the baby is as comfortable as possible, because as the article explained, " ...his ability to reproduce is critically important to the survival of his species". This article interests me because I am curious about endangered animals.

  • tessf-6-bar
    1/06/2016 - 01:02 a.m.

    Bei Bei has not been put on public display yet because he is still very young and though he is developing very quickly, is still pretty weak because he is so young. The article states that at birth, pandas are very helpless. They are "pink, hairless, and blind". Bei Bei is just growing out of these stages so he may need time to adjust. However, in paragraph 2 it says "Keepers were expecting Bei Bei (pronounced BAY BAY) to squawk and squirm during an audience [...] Instead, under bright television lights with cameras clicking, he quickly fell asleep". This supports the fact that he has hit a developing milestone and should be able to be released soon.

    I was drawn to this article because I like reading animal stories and the cover picture was cute. Reading this article, I hope that pandas will fight extinction because it would be sad to see that species go.

  • laurenw-pel
    1/06/2016 - 09:32 a.m.

    I love pandas!This article was super informative and I liked how Bei Bei the panda fell asleep during his interview.

  • rosew-pel
    1/06/2016 - 09:32 a.m.

    Everytime I go to the zoo. I love seeing the pandas eat bamboo and play in the water. They are so adorable and cute. I wish I could take one home with me.

  • coltonl-pel
    1/06/2016 - 09:37 a.m.

    i enjoyed this story because it is about pandas and pandas are nice.

  • jessiew-pel
    1/06/2016 - 09:39 a.m.

    I think this article is quite interesting because I love pandas and they're fascinating.

  • layneb-pel
    1/06/2016 - 09:40 a.m.

    I think pandas are really cute ;-). If i were bai bai then i would have been really nervous in front of the tv cameras and all that.

  • coltonl-pel
    1/06/2016 - 09:43 a.m.

    because he needs to get used to human contact and needs to grow a little bit more for him to be able to be put on display

  • jessicas-pel
    1/06/2016 - 09:44 a.m.

    They don't want to put him under too much pressure.If he does he could attack or have a heart attack and people could be hurt or he could get hurt his-self

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