Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Real Deal

After the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum and the National Cherry Blossom Festival,
the Giant Pandas at the National Zoo are D.C.'s most popular tourist attraction

Last weekend, I featured a PandaMania panda on my blog to represent "Purple" as part of my interpretation of the weekly 2 Things Challenge I participate in. Today, I bring you the real deal: Washington, D.C.'s own panda family. Washington's original panda duo--Hsing Hsing and Ling Ling--were gifts to the United States in 1972 following President Richard Nixon's historic trip to China. The pandas were well-loved, but age caught up with them and both died in the late 1990s.

Mei Xiang (may SHONG) means "beautiful fragrance." Mei Xiang was born in 1998.She is the mother of Tai Shan, the zoo's newest panda cub.

On December 6, 2000, the National Zoo received two new pandas from the Wolong Panda facility in China--Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. Soon after they arrived, the zoo, as a partner in conservation and in an effort to increase the panda population, began efforts to breed a panda cub. After various attempts, it was finally announced that Mei Xiang was pregnant and the Panda Watch began.

Tian Tian (t-YEN t-YEN) means "more and more."
He was born in 1997 and is the father of Tai Shan.

On July 9, 2005, a panda cub the size of a stick of butter was born (as was the little cub's nickname: Butterstick) and Washington collectively held its breath. Would Mei Xiang be a good mother and nurture her cub or would this newest addition to the panda pedigree die from neglect or accident? (It isn't uncommon for panda moms to accidentally crush their cubs within days of being born.) To everyone's delight, the little cub survived and thrived and Mei Xiang proved to be a wonderful, careful, doting mom.

Tai Shan (tie-SHON)--the National Zoo's celebrity panda cub.
Born on July 9, 2005, Tai Shan represents hope for peace.

On October 17--100 days after the birth of the panda cub and after a contest was held to "Name the Panda"--the zoo announced the cub would be called Tai Shan. The name means "peaceful mountain" and reflected the desire of many in the U.S. and around the world, who were and are weary of war and conflict, for peace and strength. Tai Shan was suppose to go back to China in 2007, but the government of China extended his stay in the U.S. which means he'll be here at least through 2009. To learn more about Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and Tai Shan, click here.

In the meantime, the zoo is again on Panda Watch as they attempt to inseminate Mei Xiang and produce another panda cub. There are only four zoos in the U.S. with pandas. They are: Zoo Atlanta, Memphis Zoo, San Diego Zoo, and Washington National Zoo. According to an article in National Geographic in 2003, each of the zoos has a different research focus, but the ultimate goal is to ensure the long-term survival of these venerable creatures. Here's a good article in the January 14, 2008 issue of U.S. News & World Report titled Peek-a-Boo Panda worth reading.

For additional reading, check out the FAQs on the National Zoo's site.

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 3/08


Fénix - Bostonscapes said...

Wonderful post, Janet! That third photo is absolutely beautiful. I hope Mei Xiang gets pregnant again. :)

D.C. Confidential said...

Fenix: That was about the best any of us could get out of Tian Tian. He was pretty intent on his bamboo! And I hope Mei Xiang gets pregnant, too!

Maya said...

I love your blog. Very informative. I've always wanted to visit D.C. (among many other places). If I do, I will be sure to read all your posts to see where to go!

I love the panda shots too!

The Artful Eye said...

We have panda- monium here also at our San Diego Zoo. With our new born panda cub Zhen Zhen. I love these Pandas.