Panda lovers have until tomorrow to vote on whether the National Zoo's giant panda cub will be called Hua Sheng or Tai Shan. Or perhaps Qiang Qiang.
The winning name, among five preapproved by the China Wildlife Conservation Association, will be announced during a naming ceremony Oct. 17. About 180,000 votes have been cast via the zoo's Web site since the Name the Cub contest was announced last month.
The five choices, with pronunciations provided by a zoo consultant: Hua Sheng (hwah SHUNG), which means "China Washington" and "magnificent"; Tai Shan (tie SHON), which means "peaceful mountain"; Qiang Qiang (chee-ONG chee-ONG), which means "strong, powerful"; Sheng Hua (SHUNG hwah), which means "Washington China" and "magnificent"; and Long Shan (Lohng SHON), which means "dragon mountain."
A rogue sixth choice -- Butterstick, referring to the cub's size at birth -- has been vigorously promoted by Web bloggers but has not caught on with zoo officials and is not on the naming list.
The contest marks the first time that the public in this country or abroad has been given the opportunity to name a giant panda, one of the world's most endangered animals, officials said. Friends of the National Zoo, the nonprofit support organization for the zoo, 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.
The contest officially ends at 11:59 p.m. tomorrow. To vote, go to the zoo/FONZ Web site at www.fonz.org/cubname.htm.
The male cub, born July 9, probably will make his public debut in November, although zoo officials have not announced the date. He is the first surviving cub in the zoo's decades-long quest to breed giant pandas. His mother, Mei Xiang, was artificially inseminated in March with sperm from her mate, Tian Tian. The pandas arrived at the zoo in late 2000. The zoo's previous panda pair produced five cubs in the 1980s, but none lived longer than a few days.
The zoo has Mei Xiang and Tian Tian under a 10-year agreement with China. It pays China $1 million a year in privately raised funds for its current panda pair -- plus $600,000 for the cub. The money is earmarked for giant panda conservation efforts. The cub is the property of China and will be returned to that country after his second birthday.
Once tiny and pink, the cub has developed rapidly and now has the distinctive black and white markings of a giant panda. He weighs about 10 pounds and measures nearly two feet from head to tail.
The object of all this attention and affection has yet to start walking. Yesterday, as an experiment, zookeepers moved the cub to a spot on a bed of hay just outside the door to the den.
But Mei Xiang was having none of this.
After checking the den area, she immediately returned to the cub "and dragged him by the scruff of his head and neck" back to the den, according to a report from the Panda House.
"She had a hard time picking up the big boy," the Panda House report said. "She certainly let us know she is not ready to have him relocated!"
For links to webcams of the panda and more information, go to www.washingtonpost.com/metro.