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On Saturday, August 23rd, over 300 people lined up outside Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington D.C., to participate in the first birthday celebration of one of its cutest and most precious residents - America's favorite giant panda cub, Bao Bao.
While first birthdays are always special, this one was even more so, given that only one other giant panda born at the National Zoo, Bao Bao's brother Tai Shan, has survived to celebrate this all-important milestone. Both, are the offspring of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian - giant pandas on loan from China as part of the conservation effort to revive the dwindling population of these beautiful animals. The zoo's first panda couple, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing that were a gift from the government of China, bore five cubs. Unfortunately, all of them perished within a few days!
It was, therefore, no wonder that the zookeepers went all out to celebrate the momentous occasion. In keeping with ancient Chinese tradition, the party commenced with the young panda being offered a choice of three honey-dipped bamboo shoots. Next to each, was a colorful hand-painted poster labeled 'Long Life,' 'Good Health' and 'Many Cubs'. Given that the panda's first choice is believed to predict its future, it was fortunate that Bao Bao immediately gravitated to the 'Long Life' bamboo.
Of course, bamboo sticks were not the only treats in store for this cutie-pie whose name means 'precious' or 'treasure'. The zoo's nutrition department had also made a delectable tiered cake that was crafted from frozen diluted apple juice and dyed various shades of pink, with beet juice. Frozen in between, were slices of Bao Bao's favorite fruits - apples and pears. Flower appliques carved from carrots and sweet potatoes adorned the top and a large number '1', carved from frozen apple juice, completed the perfect treat. Like any one-year-old, Bao Bao attacked his birthday cake with a vengeance and kept it in a tight embrace, until it was all gone.
The giant panda was not the only one to receive treats. The visitors were also got to enjoy a special chocolate and vanilla cake as well as traditional dandan noodles, courtesy of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China.
While Bao Bao may still look tiny, the cub who spends her days wrestling with a blue cylinder-shaped buoy filled with sand and sleeping on her favorite hemlock tree, has come a long way from the wriggling pink baby who was the size of a stick of butter, when born. The smart panda who now weighs a healthy 44lbs has even learned to respond to her name and stand tall on the scale, during her monthly weigh-ins.
Bao Bao's keepers are now hoping to teach her to present her paw when she needs to get her blood drawn and lie down, during her monthly ultrasound. As the year progresses, she will gradually stop drinking her mother's milk and then just like pandas in the wild, move away from 'home', which in Bao Bao's case means shifting to a separate enclosure. Of course, this will only be a temporary home. That's because, at the age of five, Bao Bao will follow her brother's footsteps and head to the special giant panda breeding program at the Wolong Nature Reserve in China's Sichuan Province.
Endemic to China, giant pandas mostly feed on bamboo, though they may eat other foods like honey, bananas, oranges, yams and even fish, if available. While they only survive in the wild for about 20 years, they are known to live up to the ripe-old-age of 30, in captivity. With less than 2,000 (1,600 in the wild and 376 in captivity) giant pandas left, saving the cuddly animals is a top priority for animal lovers all over the world!