Smithsonian's National Zoo Celebrates Giant Panda Bao Bao's First Birthday

The National Zoo and the Embassy of the People's Republic of China celebrated giant panda cub Bao Bao'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 Bao Bao was slightly modified for a panda cub. Three posters with symbols painted on them were placed in Bao Bao's yard. Each poster had a different image, painted by students from the Sunshine School, affiliated with the Embassy of the People's Republic of China and Friends of the National Zoo summer campers. Ambassador Cui Tiankai, Dennis Kelly, director of the National Zoo, and Brandie Smith, senior curator of mammals placed small honey treats (a new favorite treat of Bao Bao's) under the posters. One poster had peaches painted on it; in China peaches are a symbol of longevity. The second poster had bamboo painted on it, representing good health for the panda cub. The final poster had pomegranates painted on it; in China pomegranates are a symbol of fertility. Bao Bao chose the peaches first, which means she will live a long life as an ambassador for panda conservation. She then played with the poster with bamboo painted on it and finally the pomegranate poster. After she had played with all three posters she climbed up her favorite hemlock tree.

This has been such a fast year, said Kelly. I remember feeling like an anxious father-to-be while waiting see if Mei Xiang was pregnant. Today, we are celebrating one of our biggest conservation successes. It's been amazing for us, our members and all of Washington, D.C., to watch Bao Bao thrive and grow. She is so much more than just a beautiful 44-pound cub. She represents decades of collaboration between American and Chinese scientists.

A public celebration will begin at 11 a.m. and started with a special panda-keeper talk about Bao Bao and panda conservation. At 11:30 a.m., Bao Bao will receive a special birthday cake. The tiered cake was made by the Zoo's nutrition department. The tiers are made of frozen diluted apple juice and were dyed varying shades of pink using beet juice; frozen between the tiers were apple and pear slices, some of the pandas' favorite foods. The cake was decorated with flower appliques carved from carrots and sweet potatoes. In lieu of icing on the cake, a large number “1” carved from frozen diluted apple juice sat atop it. The celebration will conclude with an extra panda-keeper talk at 1:30 p.m. Guests and panda fans are encouraged to tweet their birthday wishes for Bao Bao today and support panda conservation using #BaoBaoBday.

Guests enjoyed dandan (dahn-dahn) noodles courtesy of the Embassy of the People's Republic of China. The cold noodles are a dish from Sichuan Province. The China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong, where Mei Xiang and Tian Tian were born and where Bao Bao will live after she goes to China when she turns 4, is located in Sichuan.

Bao Bao's birth one year ago was a significant conservation success for the National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, which has been studying giant pandas for 42 years. She was born as the result of a precisely timed artificial insemination performed by the panda team at the Zoo, which included Zoo scientists, veterinarians and keepers, and scientists from the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. When Bao Bao is 4 she will travel to China and enter the breeding program for giant pandas.

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Caption: Giant panda cub Bao Bao selects the Zhuazhou symbolizing long life.

Photo: David Galen, Smithsonian's National Zoo

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