Happy birthday, Bao Bao: Panda turns 1

August 19
The National Zoo’s giant panda cub is celebrating her first birthday. Here's a look at some of the most memorable moments since her birth on Aug. 23, 2013. (Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

A first birthday is a big milestone for a child and her parents. It’s an even bigger deal when the baby is the black-and-white fuzzball who has grabbed the attention of the nation’s capital since her birth on August 23, 2013.

Of course we’re talking about Bao Bao, the National Zoo’s giant panda cub, who turns 1 on Saturday. Like a lot of babies, she instantly stole the limelight from mom Mei Xiang (pronounced may shee-ong) and dad Tian Tian (tee-yen tee-yen). The tiny pink cub has come a long way in one year.


Newborn Bao Bao weighed less than 5 ounces at her first exam on August 25, 2013. More pink skin than fur was visible and she hadn’t opened her eyes. (Courtney Janney/Smithsonian’s National Zoo via Getty Images)

By the time she made her public debut in January, Bao Bao had her black-and-white patches. She was also walking and climbing on rocks in her den. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

She has gotten bigger — from less than a pound to more than 40 pounds. She learned to roll, then walk, then climb. She received her name in December and made her public debut in January. In April, she went outside for the first time. Zoo visitors can spot her outside most days, often up in a tree.

To mark Bao Bao’s birthday, Kids­Post talked to Laurie Thompson, a National Zoo biologist, to get some insights into the daily life of the endangered-­species superstar.

KidsPost: How would you describe Bao Bao’s personality?

Laurie Thompson: It’s changing every day. . . . In the afternoons and evenings she’s a lot more playful. She’s definitely entering that active phase, where she likes to play a lot.

Does she play with Mei Xiang?

I’ve seen her lunge at [Mei Xiang] or bite at her feet. She tries to entice her to play. Sometimes Mei plays, or sometimes she pushes her away.

What tasks has she mastered?

She’s really good at coming inside on her own. She’s getting good at coming when we call her.

What are trainers working on?

She does know how to stand up. . . . We’re working on getting on the scale like the adults do. Then we’ll start doing basic body parts, like showing us her paw.


Bao Bao has spend a lot of time this summer in a tree. (Abby Wood/Smithsonian’s National Zoo)

The cub, who weighs more than 40 pounds, has entered a phase where she likes to play. (Abby Wood/Smithsonian’s National Zoo)

What are her favorite activities?

When she’s not up in the tree, she tends to be . . . playing with her mom. When she’s outside, she’s real interested in the natural stuff. Chewing on wood.

What is her favorite toy?

There’s a [big plastic] spool or a bobbin. . . . I’ve seen her lounging on it. She also has a ball attached to a piece of fire hose. She still gets in a rubber tub, puts it over her head.

Can you think of something funny she has done lately?

Our indoor exhibits have small pools in them, and for a long time we didn’t fill the pools. [After a few inches of water was put in one of the pools], I did see her tumble into it by accident and jump out real quick.

What does she eat?

She nibbles on bamboo. She still nurses [and will] until about 18 months. She eats cooked sweet potato, sometimes pear or apple. . . . She does get carrots, but she doesn’t seem to like those. . . . We have found that [a fruitsicle is] one of the things she does respond to. She’ll sit there and eat it as long as Mei doesn’t take it away.

Christina Barron

If you go

What: Bao Bao birthday celebration. Sample treats, create a birthday card and take home a coloring sheet.

Where: National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Avenue NW, upper entrance to Asia Trail

When: Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

More information: A parent can call 202-633-4888 or go to nationalzoo.si.edu.

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