WASHINGTON – The most popular giant panda in U.S.-China relations finally was given an identity Sunday as the Smithsonian’s National Zoo named its female 100-day-old cub Bao Bao after receiving more than 123,000 votes online from the public.
Bao Bao, which means “treasure” or “precious,” is only the second surviving cub born at the National Zoo since the first pandas arrived in 1972 to commemorate President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China. Pandas have remained a happy symbol of diplomacy between the two countries.
Panda mother Mei Xiang has been caring for her cub in the panda den since she was born Aug. 23. Bao Bao will have her public unveiling early in 2014. Panda keepers, however, said Mei Xiang has indicated she may want to take Bao Bao outside soon. Before she goes outside, veterinarians want to give Bao Bao her final set of vaccinations this week, so mother and cub could venture out as soon as the second week of December, said curator Brandie Smith. Mei Xiang’s only other surviving cub, a male named Tai Shan, was born in 2005 and was returned to China in 2010 for breeding. Male panda Tian Tian is the father of both cubs.
Dozens of people and reporters gathered for the naming ceremony Sunday, 100 days after the cub’s birth following Chinese tradition. Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai said it’s a unique celebration.
“It represents the wish that the baby will grow up in happiness and good health and that it will live as long as over 100 years,” he said.
A live online camera view of Bao Bao revealed she is starting to scoot around, though she can’t yet raise her hind legs to crawl, curators said. Overnight she also started mouthing bamboo as her teeth are about to come in.