National Zoo prepares panda cub for debut
WASHINGTON -- Bao Bao, the giant panda cub at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, is getting used to seeing fans outside her panda house enclosure as she prepares for her public debut this month.
Bao Bao (pronounced bow-bow) had a tryout last Monday in front of the media. After waking up in her exhibit around 8 a.m., she spent the morning crawling, climbing, following mother Mei Xiang (may-shong) and poking her head over rocks to a chorus of camera clicks.
For the most part, Bao Bao is oblivious to all the commotion but is aware that people are around, panda curator Brandie Smith said.
"She's got a great disposition. She doesn't even seem to notice the folks who are watching her, her adoring public," Smith said. "Her focus is mostly on Mom right now."
Bao Bao will make her public debut Jan. 18, and may be visible inside or outside, depending on the weather and her mother's choices for any given day.
By the time she goes on public display, Bao Bao will be nearly 5 months old. She's still a baby, zookeepers said. She sleeps about half the day and plays while she's awake, rolling and tumbling on her head, gnawing on bamboo and poking at her mother.
That routine will continue when people are allowed to stream through the panda house. Smith said they won't make Bao Bao or her mother do anything they don't want to do. They will bring her out into the enclosure for viewing, conduct some training sessions with her and sometimes weigh her in public view.
"But if the cub chooses to go back into the den, or if Mom chooses to take her back into the den, we won't force her to be out on display," Smith said.
If Bao Bao is distressed or hungry, she will make a contact call for her mother, and the cub will huff or honk if the humans take too much of her time, Smith said.
In recent months, Bao Bao has become more active, moving around on her own and exploring the environment. Now she's working on climbing, but some rocks are still too big for her tiny frame.
And Bao Bao has been spending more time in her exhibit area -- a good sign for visitors who want a chance to see her.
During a VIP tour of the zoo in December, actor Hugh Jackman was allowed to peek inside the panda house and found Bao Bao in full view. He posted a picture on Instagram.
Bao Bao has turned out to be calm and relaxed, more subdued than older brother Tai Shan (ty-shahn), said biologist Laurie Thompson, who has worked with the pandas for years.
"Tai Shan was a little more vocal when we did things like weigh him, where she seems kind of relaxed about it," she said. "She's like her dad; Tian Tian [tee-YEN tee-YEN] is very relaxed and kind of goes with the flow. So I'm thinking she got that from him."