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Bao Bao, the baby giant panda who is the star attraction at the National Zoo in the District of Columbia, appeared to revel in an encounter with her first snowfall. Pandas’ natural habitats are in the snowy mountains of China, which seemed to be calling out to her viscerally as she slid, tumbled and romped in the first snowstorm of the year on Tuesday, Jan 6th.
She acted as if she could not get over her wonderment of the snow, which coated her black and white body like an additional fur covering. She encouraged her mother Mei Xiang to join her in the fun by pouncing on her and roughhousing with her.
Bao Bao, which is the Mandarin term for “precious” or “treasure,” is only the second cub to thrive after birth at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Zoo. The zoo received a pair of giant pandas in 1972 from China following President Nixon’s historic visit to the country. They have since been a symbol of diplomacy between the two nations. First lady Pat Nixon is said to have initiated “panda diplomacy” by admiring the species on that visit.
Bao Bao caused ‘Panda-monium’ in Aug. 2013 as thousands across the capital anticipated her birth. A vote, based on 123,000 ballots, decided her name in a ceremony celebrating the first 100 days of her life. Live “pandacam” recordings revealed her growth and development to a delighted audience. The famous and furry 16-month-old creature has been a fascination for the public since her birth.
Bao Bao has had her share of explorations and adventures – climbing, searching, falling and discovering within her pen, at times under her mother’s supervision and at others independently. There was a heart-warming meeting with her father, Tian Tian, through the screened window of the “Howdy” house, and any number of acrobatics in and around her enclosure.
In December she had the “shock” of coming into contact with an electrified wire at the perimeter of her pen. She fled up to the safety of a tree from which she ventured down cautiously only after a safe amount of time had passed.
She still approaches her mother frequently for the “secure attachment” element, but is showing signs of growing up and indulging her independent streak. She has reduced time spent nursing at her mother’s breast, and is consuming more solid food – a sure sign that she is weaning. The mother-daughter pair now spend less time in each other’s company and sleep separately, too.
The zoo stated that Bao Bao was proving to be a veritable “snow panda.” All morning, she repeatedly rolled and tumbled down the hill in her enclosure – playing, romping, climbing and sliding down trees. The cub had an enjoyable first-snow encounter in the District of Columbia as she frolicked with her mother.
Bao Bao is growing up under the watchful eye of Dr. Don Neiffer, chief veterinarian at the zoo, who is responsible for the health of over 1,800 animals. The panda behaves remarkably like a human toddler during her periodic check-ups. She is recalcitrant about going into the examination room, being weighed and standing still for examination until bribed with treats.
She responds to hand signals, lifts onto her back legs and gives Neiffer the opportunity for a quick physical and to check for any signs of illness or injury. The vet listens to her heart rate and checks for growths, bruises or lacerations which might point to a health issue, which so far fortuitously has not been the case. These interactions get the baby panda accustomed to human interactions and processes to facilitate any events in the future where she might need health care and procedures.
Snow in the District of Columbia on Tuesday might have led the Smithsonian Zoo to close for the day, but it was open season for Bao Bao as she maximized her first encounter with snow. Also enjoying the snowy weather were other inmates, such as the wolves, seals, tigers and lions.
By Bina Joseph
Image by Ehpien – Flickr License
Image by Abby Wood, Smithsonian’s National Zoo – Flickr License