This Saturday, Bao Bao the panda cub turns 1. The National Zoo is throwing a big party in her honor, but it may not have quite the turnout as her older brother’s first birthday in 2006.

“Bao Bao is a big deal, but, you know, Tai Shan was the first,” says panda keeper Nicole MacCorkle.

Tai Shan was also more sheltered than his sister. “We did a lot more cub-proofing, putting bales of hay under the trees in case he fell,” MacCorkle says. “It’s like when people have every single outlet covered with the first baby and not so much with their second.”

Their mom, Mei Xiang, seems mellower this time around, too. Perhaps as a result, Bao Bao has turned out to be a more chill panda than Tai Shan.

Bao Bao and Jolly Ball. (Connor Mallon/Smithsonian’s National Zoo)

Bao Bao

Toy of choice: Loves her Jolly Ball

Relationship to Mei Xiang: Bao Bao doesn’t always answer her mother’s calls. “She just keeps doing what she’s doing,” says panda keeper Laurie Thompson.

Attitude toward humans in her personal space: Bao Bao rarely snaps or growls at the keepers and ignores them as they work in the yard — probably because she’s been exposed to humans since she was very young. Keepers maintained a more hands-off approach with her older brother.

Preferred activity time: Bao Bao tends to hit developmental milestones, such as taking her first steps, after the keepers have left for the day.

Tai Shan and soccer ball. (Ann Batdorf/Smithsonian’s National Zoo)

Tai Shan

Toy of choice: Loved his soccer ball

Relationship to Mei Xiang: Tai Shan tended to stay closer to his mother and came running when she called.

Attitude toward humans in her personal space: Tai Shan was more likely to act aggressively toward keepers, and he kept close tabs
on them as they worked in his habitat. “He’d follow us all around the yard,” Thompson says.

Preferred activity time: Tai Shan was more frolicsome than his sister during regular zoo hours.


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