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 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 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 is 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.  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.  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 (112)
  • victoriak-ver
    1/06/2016 - 08:54 a.m.

    Bei Bei hasn't been put on public display yet because his caregivers did not want him to squirm or freak out. Also, Bei Bei is still a really young panda with a lot to learn, and his caregivers wanted him to grow a lot before the public could see him.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    1/06/2016 - 01:32 p.m.

    The panda cub might not have been ready for public debut because the panda cub might be frightened because it doesn't like to in public display in front of the crowd because it would be with its mother than in front of the crowd of people. The panda cub might have been ready for public debut because the panda cub just needed to get used to be with humans because panda cubs that are born from a panda are wild so it needs to get used to humans when they get touched. Panda cubs needed to get used to humans when they are getting seen in front of a crowd of people because the panda cubs need to be tamed if they are seen in front of people. The panda cubs that are being seen front of a crowd of people which the panda cubs needed to get used to their surroundings of people that are being seen by them.
    Critical Thinking Question: Why hasn't Bei Bei been put on public display yet?
    Answer: Because Bei Bei wasn't ready to be put on public display because Bei Bei gets stressed when he gets seen in front of a crowd of people.

  • lucasd-3-bar
    1/06/2016 - 08:46 p.m.

    Bei Bei has not been on public display yet because he needs more time to interact with the trainers. One paragraph states Bei Bei will have to interact with humans frequently. This will help him later on with other pandas, and since he is young, he still needs more time with this
    This article was interesting, and I would love to go see Bei Bei.

  • annabel1226-yyca
    1/06/2016 - 09:16 p.m.

    It is so cute. I wish I could have a pet panda. I wish there could be more pandas. I hope one day that there are enough animals that we could see in the zoo. I hope that panda grows well and be happy. People must be coming a lot to see the panda at the zoo. I wish I could see a panda at the zoo. I wish I could even touch the panda at the zoo.

  • calis-3-bar
    1/06/2016 - 10:44 p.m.

    Bei Bei is an extremely young panda. His survival is extremely important, as he is necessary to continue on the future generations of his species. IN order for this to happen, Bei Bei needs to create and maintain a happy and healthy relationship with humans. Because he is so young, if he was introduced to a large, loud population of humans before he was ready, it could ruin his future relationships with us. So, Bei Bei is only now being displayed to the public, as the zookeepers believe that he is ready to meet large crowds of people.

  • jacksonv-nar
    1/07/2016 - 09:46 a.m.

    Because when he was supposed to go on stage he fell asleep before he could get there.

  • jamesh-nar
    1/07/2016 - 09:48 a.m.

    Bei Bei is a newborn panda cub and probably can't walk very well yet.

  • dennisl-nar
    1/07/2016 - 09:49 a.m.

    They saved a panda in a place in China.

  • kairik-nar
    1/07/2016 - 09:49 a.m.

    Because he is still too young probably. But he is big!!!

  • jenayas-nar
    1/07/2016 - 09:50 a.m.

    I think bei bei has already been on display because people photographed him already and got up close to him

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