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Happy First Birthday Bei Bei!

  • Mei Xiang with Zhuazhou poster for luck and friendship

The Zoo and the Embassy of the People's Republic of China celebrated giant panda cub Bei Bei's first birthday this morning with a Zhuazhou (dra-JO) ceremony. During a traditional Zhuazhou ceremony, symbolic objects are placed in front of a baby. The item that the baby reaches for first foretells something about his or her future.  The Zhuazhou for Bei Bei was slightly modified for a panda cub. Three posters with symbols painted on them were placed in Bei Bei's yard. Each poster had a different image painted by the children of the Chinese embassy's families. Check out our Facebook Live broadcast of the Zhuazhou ceremony. 

Ambassador Cui Tiankai; Dennis Kelly, director of the National Zoo; and David Rubenstein, Smithsonian Regent and philanthropist, placed the banners in the panda yard. One banner had peaches painted on it; in China, peaches are a symbol of longevity. The second banner had bamboo painted on it, representing good health and habitat for the panda cub. The final banner had a traditional Chinese red 'knot' symbolizing friendship and luck.  Mother Mei Xiang chose the red knot on behalf of Bei Bei, which means he will serve as an ambassador for scientific collaboration. Scientists at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and scientists at the China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong, Sichuan Province, have been working together to learn about giant pandas and save them since the 1970s.

"To giant panda fans around the world, Bei Bei is our charismatic cub who has charmed visitors with his bold personality, laid-back temperament and playful behavior," Kelly said. "To our dedicated team of animal care staff and scientists, this bear represents more than four decades of conservation research and excellence in giant panda husbandry. Today, we celebrate that we have been able to share our panda story--from the science behind his conception to his first steps and beyond--and we look forward to what he will teach us in the future."

Bei Bei and Mei Xiang, Bao Bao (turning 3 Aug. 23) and Tian Tian (turning 19 Aug. 27) also received tiered birthday cakes made by our nutrition department. The tiers were made of frozen diluted juice and were dyed various colors using beet juice, carrot juice, apple juice and food dye. The cakes were decorated with flower appliques carved from apples, pears, cooked sweet potatoes, leaf-eater biscuits and arrow bamboo-some of the pandas' favorite foods. In lieu of icing, a large number "1" carved from frozen diluted apple juice sat atop Bei Bei's cake; keepers also topped the cake with some honey. Although Bei Bei chose to sleep inside, it was clear that Mei Xiang was enjoying the refreshing treat! Watch a Facebook Live broadcast of the birthday cake. 

Bei Bei's birth one year ago on Aug. 22 was a significant conservation success for the National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, which has been studying giant pandas for 44 years.