The panda-adoring public will get to name the National Zoo's giant panda cub and vie for a chance to win a special tour of the Panda House in a nationwide contest announced yesterday by Friends of the National Zoo.
The name of the male cub, born July 9, has come down to five choices -- and panda fans have until Sept. 30 to vote for their favorite via the zoo's Web site.
FONZ, the nonprofit support organization for the zoo, said it also is holding a contest for youngsters with a knack for fundraising, and those winners will receive a special visit to see the new cub, too.
A FONZ spokesman said the five panda names were selected by the China Wildlife Conservation Association and the zoo. It's the first time that the public in this country and abroad has been given an opportunity to name a giant panda, one of the world's most endangered animals.
The choices, with pronunciations supplied by FONZ:
* Hua Sheng (hwah SHUNG), which means "China Washington" and "magnificent."
* Sheng Hua (SHUNG hwah), which means "Washington China" and "magnificent."
* Tai Shan (tie SHON), which means "peaceful mountain."
* Long Shan (lohng SHON), which means "dragon mountain."
* Qiang Qiang (chee-ONG chee-ONG), which means "strong, powerful."
FONZ spokesman Matt Olear said the China group suggested the first two names to emphasize the collaborative effort between China and Washington to protect and increase the giant panda population, now numbered at about 1,600 in the wild. The spelling and pronunciation of Sheng, the Chinese word for "Washington," is "close enough" to that of the Chinese word for "magnificent," according to a zoo consultant.
The zoo's Panda House staff, Olear said, picked the other names, in part to stress the natural history of the species.
Barely hours into the contest yesterday, more than 4,300 people had logged on to vote, FONZ officials said.
The cub is the offspring of father Tian Tian and mother Mei Xiang, who was artificially inseminated. The panda parents have been in Washington since late 2000 under a 10-year, $10 million loan agreement with China. Their cub will be sent to China when he is 2.
FONZ said it will randomly select one voter in the naming contest to receive a trip for two to Washington for a "private visit" with the giant panda family and other prizes.
FONZ's other contest, called "Pennies for Pandas," is for children who create successful campaigns to raise money for the zoo's Giant Panda Conservation Fund. Two winning entries will be selected in each of two age groups, 6 to 10 and 11 to 14, based on the campaign that raises the most money and the campaign deemed most creative.
Each of the four winners will receive a trip for four to Washington for a private tour of the Panda House as well as other prizes.
The cub's name and the winners of both contests will be announced in October.
To vote in the panda naming contest, go to the zoo/FONZ Web site at www.fonz.org/cubname.htm.
An entry form and more information about the fundraising contest are available at www.fonz.org/penniesforpandas.htm.
The panda cub is 47 days old today. At his last exam, Aug. 18, he weighed 4.2 pounds and was 17 inches long.
The National Zoo's quest to breed a giant panda has been a three-decade struggle.
The animal park's previous panda pair, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, a gift from China in 1972, had five cubs during the 1980s, but none lived more than a few days.
The Panda House is closed at least until October to avoid disturbing mother and baby, although visitors can still see Tian Tian in his yard when he is outside.
The zoo provides daily updates on mother and cub and round-the-clock webcam coverage at its Web site.
Yesterday's report noted that the cub has been seen turning from his back onto his belly -- and is using his tiny hind legs to "push up closer to Mei."