The new panda at the National Zoo may be the most scrutinized youngster in Washington since Chelsea Clinton. Not only can you watch him live on the Internet, the zoo has a daily Web log of what he and his mother, Mei Xiang, are up to.
What must it be like to spend your days trying to make the pair's various activities interesting? Something like this, maybe?
July 9: Mei's a Mom!
Well, the waiting is over! At 3:41 a.m. today, giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub. Mei gives every indication of being a wonderful mother. She responds to the cub's every squeal, cradling the baby in her mouth, cuddling it and allowing it to suckle at her breast. Zookeepers don't yet know the sex of the baby, which is blind and hairless. It's about the size of a stick of butter.
July 10: You Can Lead a Panda to Water
Mei left her enclosure to take a drink of water today! While this may not seem like a big deal, rest assured that it is. Every incremental development of the cub or bit of behavior exhibited by Mei Xiang is noteworthy. National Zoo scientists and volunteers are carefully monitoring the panda pair round-the-clock, writing down their movements; their vocalizations; what they eat and drink; when they eat and drink; their facial expressions; the frequency, consistency and color of their bowel movements; etc., etc.
This is all observed via closed-circuit television and entered into a detailed journal. And then yours truly picks out the highlights for this panda blog.
July 11: Oh That Thirsty Panda!
Mei took another drink of water today. That's the second time in two days she has taken a drink of water. Counting the day when the cub was born, that is two times in three days that she has taken a drink of water, or roughly one drink of water every two-thirds of a day. If she takes a drink of water tomorrow, she will have taken a drink of water on 75 percent of the days since she gave birth.
The cub is still blind and hairless. And still about the size of a stick of butter.
July 12: Everybody's a Critic
We've been told not to compare the baby panda to a stick of butter anymore.
July 13: Treat Yourself
The cub is roughly the size of a 3 Musketeers bar (the King Size, not the Miniature or Fun Size).
July 14: Helloooo! Anybody Out There?
Does anybody even read this stuff?
I watch the pandacam. But I don't have a lot to work with. You try injecting some excitement into drinks of water and the occasional squeal.
I was an English major. I studied Melville and Hawthorne. I deserve better than this, better than sitting in a windowless room staring at a bunch of TV monitors. I feel like a security guard at PandaMart. And to be honest, the cub still looks the same: like an albino bratwurst. It just lies there most of the time, occasionally squealing. Mei Xiang licks it every now and then.
Stop the presses: Mother panda licks baby panda! Actually, it's kind of gross since the baby's been on the floor and the panda enclosure is kind of gamey.
Oh, and mom took another drink of water today. Big whoop. Well, see ya tomorrow.
July 15: Get Thee Behind Me, Satan
Zoo veterinarians were able to handle the new cub briefly today, weighing it, measuring its length and taking a blood sample. As they examined it they were startled to find the number "666" on its forehead.
In another troubling development, zookeepers found a copy of the Brooke Shields book "Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression" hidden under a pile of Mei Xiang's bamboo.
July 16: It's a Boy!
Zookeepers determined the sex of the baby today. Here's how they did it: They placed a selection of toys in the panda enclosure -- a baseball mitt, a GI Joe with kung-fu grip, an Easy-Bake Oven and a Crystal Fairytopia Barbie doll with glowing, snap-on clothes. The little bruiser crawled right over to the GI Joe, picked it up and starting making machine-gun noises, a welcome change from his constant squealing and occasional barking. Yessiree, Washington, our panda's 100 percent guy.
July 17: Walk This Way
The panda cub took his first steps today! Mei Xiang stood on one side of the enclosure, holding up a piece of bamboo. The infant stood up on his hind legs and unsteadily wobbled forward, arms stretched out in front of him, like Frankenstein's monster.
After collapsing into his mother's arms, the panda cub startled observers by uttering a complete English sentence: "Me want panda blog guy to get raise."
July 18: Trouble in Panda-dise?
The panda cub threw a tantrum today. It seems that he was invited to the Elephant House for a sleepover. But Mei Xiang said no, not until he grows some hair and can open his eyes. Well, he went ballistic. "This sucks!" he shouted. "The lemming's mom is letting him go on the sleepover. Why can't I?"
To which Mei Xiang said, "And if the lemming jumped off a cliff, would you?"
July 19: A Word From the National Zoo
It has come to our attention that the panda blog writer was making unauthorized postings. We apologize. Rest assured that it is our intention to provide you with reliable information on our new panda cub.
Today, Mei Xiang took a drink of water. The baby is roughly the size of a stick of butter.
You can read the real panda updates at http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/GiantPandas/CubUpdates/