This morning, Sept. 25, the giant panda cub born at the Smithsonian's National Zoo Aug. 22 received his name, Bei Bei (BAY-BAY), which means precious, treasure" and is complementary to his sister's name, Bao Bao. In celebration of the state visit and as a special honor for the cub, the name was selected by First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, and First Lady of the People's Republic of China, Peng Liyuan.
Panda keepers at the National Zoo and panda keepers at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong, Sichuan Province, where the cub will live after he turns 4 years old, each contributed one name for consideration. After witnessing a brief cub health check inside the panda house, together Mrs. Obama and Mme. Peng selected a set of scrolls with the concealed cub's name in Mandarin and English. Following ceremonial remarks by Smithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton, Mrs. Obama and Mme. Peng, third-grade students from the Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School assisted the First Ladies by unfurling the scrolls to reveal the cub's name.
"Species conservation is at the heart of our mission at the National Zoo," Skorton said. "We are honored to have First Lady Michelle Obama and First Lady Peng Liyuan join us to celebrate the more than four-decade history of China and the Smithsonian working together to preserve giant pandas, and to name the newest addition to our panda family."
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute scientists and Chinese scientists met with students at interactive stations to learn about giant panda science. Bei Bei's father Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN) and big sister Bao Bao (BOW-BOW) were in their outdoor yards for the announcements and celebrated with panda-friendly frozen cakes.
Historically, as giant pandas are indigenous only to China, the National Zoo has named panda cubs when they turn 100 days old in a nod to Chinese culture and traditions. Centuries ago, it was common for parents to name their newborns when they reached 100 days. Parents in China no longer wait to name their children, but it is still customary to host a celebration when a baby turns 100 days old. Scientists and keepers at giant panda breeding and research centers in China do not wait 100 days to name cubs born at those facilities.
The chosen name, Bei Bei, was submitted by panda keepers from Wolong. National Zoo panda keepers submitted Ping Ping, which means peaceful and calm.
Mrs. Obama and Mme. Peng participated in the celebration to name the Zoo's 2-year-old giant panda Bao Bao in 2013. They sent video messages, which were played at the public ceremony, congratulating the Zoo on her birth and the decades of research and collaboration between the United States and China for the species.
The National Zoo received a state gift of two pandas in 1972 following the seminal state visit of President Richard M. Nixon and Mrs. Patricia Nixon to China. The two bears, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, lived out their lives at the Zoo. The Zoo's current pair of adult pandas, Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) and Tian Tian, came to the Zoo in 2000. They have produced three surviving cubs: Tai Shan (tie-SHON), who lives in China, Bao Bao and Bei Bei.
Bei Bei will likely not be on exhibit until early 2016. He now weighs 2.95 pounds. Bei Bei lifts himself up on his front legs and scoots around Mei Xiang's den when she sets him down.
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Photo Credit: Ralph Alswang/Smithsonian's National Zoo