Extended Hours at National Zoo's Giant Panda Habitat This Weekend

Special InstaMeet Scheduled for Feb. 1

Giant panda cub Bao Bao will step out from behind the panda cams and meet the public this weekend at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. Visitors to the Zoo will have the opportunity to see Bao Bao starting Saturday, Jan. 18, at 8 a.m. The panda house at the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat will open its doors to the general public (members of Friends of the National Zoo are receiving a preview from Jan. 11 to Jan. 17) for the first time since the Zoo's panda team began a pregnancy watch for Bao Bao's mother, Mei Xiang (may-SHONG), in July 2013.

The panda house will extend its hours in an attempt to accommodate the visitors expected to come see Bao Bao. It will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from Jan. 18 through Jan. 20, and visitors will be allowed into the house in small groups to avoid overcrowding on a first-come-first-served basis. Bao Bao and Mei Xiang will have access to the den during those times, and may choose to spend time in it instead of on exhibit. Beginning Jan. 21 the panda house will open to FONZ members only from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. At 10 a.m. the panda house will open to the general public.

The amount of time Bao Bao and her mother Mei Xiang will be on exhibit each day will depend on the bears' behavior. As time passes, Bao Bao is expected to be more visible in her enclosure.

Asia Trail, where the panda habitat is located, will follow a one-way traffic pattern. Visitors can enter Asia Trail directly across from the Visitor's Center, which is located near the Connecticut Avenue pedestrian entrance. The line for giant panda cub viewing will form in front of the outdoor panda yards. Visitors will exit Asia Trail onto Olmsted Walk, across from the Panda Plaza food court and gift shop.

Today, Jan. 15, the National Zoo launched its Instagram account, @SmithsonianZoo, with an animal selfie" video of Bao Bao. To commemorate Bao Bao's public debut, 30 lucky Instagrammers who follow @SmithsonianZoo on Instagram will be given special early access to the panda house to see Bao Bao Saturday, Feb. 1, for an InstaMeet or "#ZooMeet." The 30 participants will be chosen from Instagrammers who register for the InstaMeet and will have half an hour to view and take photos of Bao Bao before the panda house opens to the public. Members of the panda team will also be available to answer questions. Registration for the InstaMeet is now open. Instagrammers chosen to attend the special opportunity will be notified by Jan. 27. They will be sharing their photos Feb. 1, using #ZooMeet and #Panda. Additional information on the Instameet and registration is posted to the Zoo's website.

The Zoo will provides updates about Bao Bao through Facebook, Twitter and the Giant Panda Update e-newsletter. Bao Bao will continue to be visible on the Zoo's panda cams, sponsored by the Ford Motor Company Fund before and after her public debut. The panda cams have received more than 9.5 million views since Bao Bao's birth Aug. 23, 2013.

Caption: Bao Bao at her media debut Jan. 6.

Photo: Abby Wood, Smithsonian's National Zoo.

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