The National Zoo's giant panda cub was officially dubbed Tai Shan yesterday and heralded as a symbol -- a very cute symbol -- of friendship between the United States and China.
Tai Shan, pronounced tie shahn and meaning "peaceful mountain," was the favorite in the zoo's online poll offering five choices approved by the China Wildlife Conservation Association. One of three names suggested by the Panda House staff, it garnered about 44 percent of more than 202,000 votes cast.
Until yesterday's announcement, the winning name was a closely kept secret, but at least a few key people were in the know. Friends of the National Zoo, the zoo's support group, immediately began selling plush panda toys with the Tai Shan moniker, and that's just the start of a marketing push.
Tai Shan will not make his public debut until December at the earliest. But there was still plenty of fanfare surrounding his naming. The zoo's new director, John Berry, called for a drumroll and revealed the choice at a ceremony outside the Panda House that also celebrated the cub's landmark 100th day. The event featured costumed dancers and a delegation of Smithsonian Institution and Chinese officials.
"For 14 weeks, millions of people have delighted in watching him," Berry said, referring to a worldwide legion of fans that has monitored the cub on the zoo's 24-hour Web camera since his birth July 9. "We strained to see his tiny body when his mother cradled him in her arms to nurse him. Now he's more than two feet" in length.
Berry described the cub as "healthy and strong," adding, "He's got a lot of spunk in him." Chinese officials noted that Tai Shan is the name of a famous mountain north of the city of Tai'an in Shandong Province in eastern China. They embraced the theme of peace embodied in the choice.
"Giant pandas are a valuable resource in China and also a great gift of China to the world and the United States," Yan Xun, deputy director of China's Conservation Department, said through a translator.
Panda diplomacy was launched at the National Zoo more than 30 years ago. The zoo's first two pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, were a gift from the Chinese government in 1972, when China and the United States were trying to improve relations.
Zheng Zeguang, deputy chief of mission at the Chinese Embassy, noted that those pandas entertained the American people and others for two decades. Speaking in English, he declared that the current pair, Tian Tian (t-yen t-yen) and Mei Xiang (may shawng), have created a fresh sense "of pandamanium . . . . All contributed in their very special way to the understanding and friendship between two countries."
John Gibbons, a zoo spokesman, said Tai Shan "is a unique name among pandas. It's also a symbolic name for friendship and kindness."
Among the online voters who liked the name was Elizabeth Botten, 32, of Washington.
"I'm an art historian, and I've looked at a lot of paintings of Chinese mountains. It was a nice image for me," Botten said. She also liked the notion of peace, "especially with all the ills in the world these days."
The zoo's previous panda pair produced five cubs, but none lived longer than a few days.
Giant pandas are an endangered species, with about 1,600 in the wild. The World Wildlife Fund said the Chinese government, aided by zoos that exhibit pandas, has worked to restore the panda habitat and increased the number of giant panda reserves from 13 in the 1990s to about 60 today.
Tian Tian and Mei Xiang arrived at the zoo in December 2000 under a 10-year, $10 million loan agreement with China. The privately raised funds, plus $600,000 to exhibit the cub, are earmarked for giant panda conservation efforts. The cub will be sent to China after his second birthday.
Zoos in San Diego, Atlanta and Memphis also pay China to exhibit giant pandas, and the San Diego Zoo has had two successful cub births. A delegation of officials from China is visiting the zoos and attended yesterday's naming.
National Zoo officials hoped to put Tai Shan on public view next month, but his debut has been delayed because the cub's mother has been reluctant to let him venture out of his den and into the exhibit area.
At his eighth exam last week, Tai Shan measured 25.5 inches and weighed 12.7 pounds. He has become an armful for his mother.
Over the weekend, the cub playfully swatted his mother. When she picked him up, he squirmed in her arms, as if protesting, and swatted her again. "Finally," according to a report from the Panda House, "he just went to sleep -- it seems all that wiggling wore him out!"
The Panda House is closed to the public. But the outdoor yards are open, and Tian Tian and Mei Xiang can often be seen there.
FONZ has long sold panda-related merchandise. Yesterday, it unveiled the new items: toy panda cubs with the name Tai Shan ($12.99) and three styles of T-shirts ($14.95 to $15.95.) FONZ has cub buttons, postcards, mugs, tote bags and other items in the works.
Fujifilm, which is building a new exhibit for the pandas, as well as Animal Planet and USA Weekend magazine helped sponsor the ceremony.
One community sponsor, Whole Foods Market, plans to sell panda cookies to help raise money for conservation efforts.
Front and center yesterday was Rod Sallee, a U.S. Forest Service employee from Harpers Ferry, W.Va. His name was chosen at random from among the panda name voters, and there was a gasp of envy when the crowd learned that he was about to see the cub.
"It was wonderful," Sallee, 61, said afterward. "It's a little fuzzball. . . . They brought it out, and it was crawling around in the hay. It was really exciting to watch it."
Sallee, his wife, Ellen, and several Chinese officials spent about a half-hour in the Panda House, viewing the cub from behind glass.
"It's nice to see the picture, but it's even better in person," Sallee said. "We were not disappointed!"
Staff writers D'Vera Cohn and Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.
For links to webcams of the panda and more information, go to www.washingtonpost.com/ metro.
National Zoo Director John Berry unveils the cub's name on the animal's 100th day. More than 200,000 votes were cast online.On Wednesday, Tai Shan had his eighth exam. He measured 25.5 inches and weighed 12.7 pounds.