China / Across America

Panda cub Bei Bei warms to public

By Hua Shengdun in Washington (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-01-18 11:56

Weighing in at 25 pounds, son of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian thrills

Bei Bei has rekindled panda diplomacy, according to the giant panda cub's caregiver.

"I think this is panda diplomacy," said Marty Earie, a zoologist at the National Zoo in Washington who has been taking care of Bei Bei since he was born last summer. "It is so amazing that both of the governments can keep the pandas alive and show them to the public.

"While there are some other things that our governments cannot agree on, we can come together for this," Earie said.

Bei Bei made his public debut on Jan 16 at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington.

"All she wants to do is see the panda since she watched Kong Fu Panda (the animated movie that is now a trilogy)," said John Smith, a professor at Georgetown University, referring to his 6-year-old daughter.

A long queue formed early in the morning, many of whom were children accompanied by their parents. Staffers handed out red panda bumper stickers at the entrance. Closer to the queue, there is a panda store where people wear panda costumes and buy panda souvenirs.

"Thanks to Bei Bei, we have got a lot more visitors today," a cashier at the store said.

Born on Aug 22 last year, Bei Bei was the third cub for mother Mei Xiang and father Tian Tian.

Bei Bei now weighs 25 pounds and he has started to nibble on bamboo. But he is still nursed by his mother, Earie said.

Bei Bei not only has a larger body than his sister, Bao Bao, but also a much more outgoing personality. He likes to get closer to people and is calm in front of cameras, while his sister is more of an independent bear eating bamboo quietly in a corner, Earie said.

Laurie Thompson, a biologist at the National Park, said people will get to see more of Bei Bei because his mother is less possessive than she was with her first two cubs.

Bei Bei has been a household name in the US since he was a 5-ounce tiny pink creature.

During President Xi Jinping's state visit to the US last September, Peng Liyuan and Michelle Obama, the first ladies of China and the US, jointly named the cub Bei Bei, meaning precious treasure.

Pandas have such a large following that the panda house is always the first draw for zoo visitors, according to Thomson, who has been taking care of pandas for more than 20 years.

Justin Kotze, who works for a consulting company, is a diehard panda fan. "I have been to Wolong in Sichuan province just to see the panda," he said. "And my heart was beating so fast when I held up a panda cub in my arms."

Pan Jialiang in Washington contributed to this story.

Panda cub Bei Bei warms to public

 Panda cub Bei Bei warms to public

Visitors take a photo on Jan 16 with a panda mascot in the queue outside the Panda House at the Smithsonian National Zoo, waiting to see Bei Bei (above), the giant panda cub who was making his public debut.  Pan Jialiang and He Fei/ for China Daily

(China Daily USA 01/18/2016 page2)

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