WASHINGTON — Bao Bao made her public debut Monday as the Smithsonian National Zoological Park’s giant panda cub met the media for a photo shoot.
The cub, who was born August 23, climbed on some rocks, rolled on her back and strolled around the two-room indoor enclosure she shares with mom Mei Xiang. Two animal keepers picked up the 17-pound cub several times so that photographers could get a better view. Bao Bao didn’t seem at all concerned with the flashes of light or the crowd on the other side of the glass.
Animal keeper Laurie Thompson confirmed that Bao Bao is pretty easygoing compared with older brother Tai Shan, who now lives in China.
“Tai Shan was a little feisty,” Thompson said. “She hasn’t been really upset with us. Hopefully, that personality will continue.”
Mei Xiang joined Bao Bao during the event, but after a quick check on the cub and a few minutes playing with a toy, she moved into the other room to eat a bamboo breakfast.
“Bao Bao doesn’t seem to mind that Mom isn’t there all the time,” Thompson said.
Friends of the National Zoo members can get a look at Bao Bao beginning Saturday, and the general public will be admitted to the indoor den beginning January 18. Bao Bao sleeps a good portion of the day, so visitors will not see her if she retreats into her den for a nap.
“We don’t tell them what they can and cannot do,” said Brandie Smith, who oversees the panda habitat.
The cub stays inside, but Smith said zookeepers will open the doors to the outside den in the coming weeks.
“The most exciting part is to come,” Smith said. Visitors can look forward to seeing Bao Bao climb trees, which is a typical cub activity.
Dad Tian Tian has his own enclosure and won’t be spending any time in the same space with Bao Bao.
“Male pandas have no direct role in rearing cubs,” said Marty Dearie, an animal keeper at the zoo. But as Bao Bao spends more time outside, she may notice her dad in the enclosure next door, Dearie said.
The cub will live at the National Zoo until she is 4 years old. She will then move to a preserve in western China, where about 1,600 pandas live in the wild.