Feature: U.S.-born giant panda Bei Bei turns two, delights zoo visitors

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-23 20:37:37|Editor: Lu Hui
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Giant panda Beibei is seen beside its birthday cake during a celebration at Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington D.C., the United States, Aug. 22, 2017. The zoo on Tuesday held a celebration for giant panda Beibei's two-year-old birthday, which attracted lots of visitors. (Xinhua/Yang Chenglin)

by Sun Ding, Hu Yousong

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22 (Xinhua) -- It was just another day for giant panda Bei Bei -- he got up, chewed bamboo and twisted his fuzzy body to get more comfortable before taking a nap on a tree.

But for most of those who waited outside his enclosure at Smithsonian's National Zoo here early in the morning, it was a big day for both Bei Bei and them as the U.S.-born panda, which was born on Aug. 22, 2015, turned two years old on Tuesday.

Bei Bei, whose name means "treasure," and more colloquially "baby," in Chinese, is the offspring of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, a pair of giant pandas on loan from China.

He also has an elder brother, Tai Shan (or Butterstick, Tai Shan's nickname before he was officially named because he was about the size of a stick of butter when he was born), and an elder sister, Bao Bao, who were born respectively in 2005 and 2013 in the U.S. zoo. Both of Bei Bei's siblings returned to China when they were about four years old, under an agreement between the two countries.

Among the earliest visitors to see the birthday boy was Karen Meyers, who came from neighboring Maryland.

Meyers said she has been following Bei Bei's progress since he was born two years ago and that she planned to take pictures of him to share with her friends who could not come to the celebration.

"He is so mischievous, cute and a big baby," Meyers told Xinhua. "I am happy it is his birthday."

The birthday celebration started at around 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) as the zoo's nutrition department, which is in charge of cutting bamboos and preparing food for the pandas, whipped up a special cake.

Laurie Thompson, assistant curator of the giant pandas exhibit, told Xinhua in an interview that the "panda-friendly cake" was made of diluted juice, apples, pears, carrots, sweet potatoes and leaf-eater biscuits, with most of the ingredients being among Bei Bei's favorites.

After disappearing for a while, Bei Bei reemerged after the curators placed the cake on the grass.

The highlight came when Bei Bei started strolling around his birthday cake, and a crowd of visitors, from silver-haired seniors to toddlers who could barely talk, hummed a birthday song together for the two-year-old giant panda.

Bei Bei was attracted by the cake and sat down to enjoy it -- by contrast, exactly a year ago he abandoned his birthday cake and went to sleep in the panda house instead of celebrating his first birthday.

It appeared that he is not as shy as he used to be. Jillian Goldfarb from Boston told Xinhua that she thinks Bei Bei has "a mischievous side" but "he really just makes people laugh and root for him."

"Bei Bei has got a great personality," Thompson said. "He is very laid-back, confident and does not mind new things and they do not scare him too much."

"He works well with the keepers, but he is good at being an independent young panda," she said. "We are really proud of his progress."

Besides developing an adorable personality, Bei Bei is also making "huge" progress in terms of his physical development. He weighs about 165 pounds (around 75 kilograms) now, and is heavier than his siblings were at the same age, according to the National Zoo.

Bei Bei could hardly squeeze his frame into a small box labeled "birthday boy" which was placed next to the cake.

Meyers said Bei Bei has been eating ever since he was born, and he is bigger than Tai Shan at certain milestones. "He is a big boy. I think Bei Bei would be a good size of bear like his father."

"It is a good sign that Bei Bei is very healthy," Thompson added.

As the youngest giant panda at the National Zoo, almost every move Bei Bei makes attracts attention with the help of a Panda cam on the Smithsonian website.

After undergoing an emergency bowel obstruction surgery in late 2016 and a weaning from his mother in May, Bei Bei is recovering well with no side-effects and is doing great living independently, which was attributed by the zoo to joint efforts of U.S. and Chinese experts.

"We hope the international collaboration will lead to more pandas and it's clear that people were working really hard to save and protect the species," said Ann Wyatt, another visitor.

Lots of tourists and visitors were still lingering until noon.

A group of students wearing birthday crowns featuring panda patterns on them waved to say good-bye: "Bei Bei, happy birthday! We will come to see you again soon."

KEY WORDS: panda