- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

It’s a party sure to draw thousands, complete with a birthday boy clad in black and white.

Giant panda cub Tai Shan — who went from butter stick to ball of fur to big-time celebrity since his birth last year — turns 1 July 9, and the National Zoo is celebrating his big day with a blowout fit for … well, a bear.

“We’ve had birthday parties before, but I … could say with little doubt that this probably will be the biggest,” zoo spokesman John Gibbons said. “Everything we do with Tai Shan seems to be the biggest. He’s definitely a national celebrity.”

Tai Shan, who is slated to be sent to China when he turns 2, was born through the artificial insemination of mother Mei Xiang in March 2005. Since Tai Shan made his public debut Dec. 8, zoo officials said 1,097,975 people have flocked to the zoo hoping to get a peek at the cub.

The festivities will be appropriate for the zoo’s furry celebrity. The celebration will include free birthday cupcakes for the panda habitat’s first 1,000 visitors, traditional Chinese dancers, music and informational booths manned by zoo scientists and nutritionists.

And although Tai Shan himself won’t be treated to cake, he will have a special panda treat of his own to munch on: a “fruitsicle.”

“It’s … bamboo leaves and things like that that are frozen in water,” Mr. Gibbons said. “On his birthday, Tai will be getting his very first one.”

The creation of the frozen concoction will be monitored by the zoo’s supervisory nutritionist Mark Edwards, who said it also could contain a high-fiber biscuit, carrots and sweet potatoes.

The cub, who Mr. Edwards said is still nursing and has begun to “sample” bamboo, will be able to lick the birthday gift to his heart’s content.

“It’s just a big block of ice, and we do things with flavors and scents, things to get him interested in it,” said Mr. Edwards, who came to the National Zoo from the San Diego Zoo. “The idea is to give him something unique and novel that’s not going to impact his diet negatively.”

Panda panderers also can pick up blank birthday cards at the zoo or at participating Whole Foods Market and Panda Express locations and write birthday wishes to the still growing — but according to all accounts, still unable to read — panda cub.

“There will be a place here at the zoo along the celebration route where they’ll be pinned up so people can see all the different cards that kids are creating,” Mr. Gibbons said.

Zoo officials said they expect a “crowded” day on Tai Shan’s big day, and plenty of panda fans at the zoo yesterday said they would be all for attending the party.

“Yay! A big party,” said 5-year-old Lanyah Crowder, on a field trip to the zoo from Cornerstone Beulah Christian Academy in Northeast.

“I’ll make [a card] on the computer with a panda on it,” said Lanyah’s schoolmate, 11-year-old Mieisha Thompson.

Alice Perlman, who took her 2-year-old daughter Ellie to see Tai Shan, said she would consider coming back down from New York City for the birthday bash.

“We’re here for a conference, and we absolutely can’t wait to come back,” said Mrs. Perlman, 46. “Would I come just to get to know the pandas? I don’t know … I might.”

The main event will begin at 9:30 a.m. July 9 at the zoo, but some celebrating already has begun in the District.

This month, restaurants including Poste Moderne Brasserie, which is adjacent to Hotel Monaco in Northwest, and Seasons at the Four Seasons Hotel in Northwest will be serving black-and-white desserts in Tai Shan’s honor. A portion of their proceeds will go to the Friends of the National Zoo.

Panda Express also will be giving away plush panda toys to children requesting a birthday card for Tai Shan at participating locations in the area.

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