- The Washington Times - Monday, November 7, 2005

The National Zoo’s young giant panda cub put on quite a show for some lucky visitors yesterday.

Fewer than 100 people who bought “Panda Pavers” to help build a new panda habitat got an up-close peek at Tai Shan. The cub turns 4 months old tomorrow.

Theron Patrick of Springfield was decked out in a panda tie for the event. His wife wore a scarf decorated with pandas.

Nancy Patrick called Tai Shan “adorable” and said he was about the size they expected, because she and her husband have been checking the baby’s progress every day on the zoo’s Web site (nationalzoo.si.edu/default.cfm).

“It’s not animatronic and not magic or anything,” Mrs. Patrick proclaimed, still smiling after a 10-minute visit to the panda habitat. “He’s a real little panda.”

“It was better than expected,” said Annette Yurek, also of Springfield. “He was right in front of us. If there wasn’t glass there, we’d be able to touch him. He was adorable.”

She and her husband brought their children and a young friend to the special showing. Although Fairfax County schools were closed yesterday, Mrs. Yurek said she would have taken her children out of class for this opportunity.

Excited visitors showed off digital pictures of the cub to people outside the exhibit. They said the cub and his mother ventured out from their den into the public viewing area, where Mei Xiang fed apples to her cub and carried him around by the leg or the scruff of the neck.

“It was the best show you could imagine,” Mrs. Yurek said.

Interest in the giant panda baby is not limited to the Washington area.

Rita Fullerton and her daughter came up from Palatka, Fla., for the sole purpose of seeing Tai Shan.

Mrs. Fullerton said she has been watching the cub’s progress online since “day one.” Although she likes pandas in general, she said “this one just intrigued me.”

National Zoo officials said this limited viewing will help cub and mother get used to having crowds parade through the panda house.

The National Zoo has been holding a series of events, allowing donors and VIPs to see the new panda cub. Those who got tickets for yesterday’s early look at the cub had bought “Panda Pavers” to help fund the new panda habitat in 2000.

They had no idea that buying the inscriber bricks years ago would get them special treatment yesterday.

“This is an excellent way to give back to those who have supported us for so long,” zoo spokeswoman Peper Long said.

Friends of the National Zoo recently distributed 600 tickets online to its members for special viewings, which will begin on Nov. 19.

The zoo hopes to begin allowing the general public to see the panda cub sometime next month.

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