- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Whether it’s for their teddy-bear appearance, their unique color pattern or their lazy lifestyle, giant pandas for decades in the United States have enjoyed adoration unlike any other in the animal kingdom.

And with just four U.S. zoos housing the endangered mammals native to China, officials around the country say they are all too familiar with the “panda-monium” the District is experiencing after the recent birth of a cub at the National Zoo.

“It’s not unique to D.C., I can tell you that,” said Laura Doty, spokeswoman for the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee. “People around the world love pandas. It’s always exciting, whether you’re having a baby or introducing pandas to the city and surrounding areas for the first time.”

All pandas on display in the United States are on loan from the Chinese government. Ms. Doty said the process for a zoo to secure a panda is competitive and based in part on demonstrating research that can help the animals in the wild and in captivity.

The Memphis Zoo has two adult giant pandas, and while they have yet to produce a new cub, a testing method developed by the zoo’s researchers helped accurately predict when the National Zoo’s giant panda would give birth.

On Aug. 23, giant panda Mei Xiang delivered her squawking newborn — about eight years after the birth of her only cub to survive to adulthood. Zoo officials are describing the latest cub as “strong” and “active” and saying its black and white fur is beginning to grow in.

The birth comes a month after the Fulton County Zoo in Atlanta welcomed twin panda cubs in July, marking its fourth and fifth cubs in seven years.

Rebecca Snyder, curator of mammals at the Atlanta zoo, said things have settled down a bit since the cubs’ birth, but she expects interest to pick up again in mid-October when the cubs are introduced to the public.

Ms. Snyder said the zoo’s panda program began in 1999, and while the first cub’s birth generated enormous interest, with the second and third cubs, “I don’t think there was as much excitement.”

“I think if we had just had a single cub, there would be not quite as much excitement,” she said. “Everyone is excited about twins.”

Though it has been a year since the San Diego Zoo welcomed its most recent addition to its giant panda program, zoo spokeswoman Christina Simmons said panda lovers still monitor the zoo’s cameras online 24 hours a day.

“There are people who call at 2 a.m. to say they see something or have a question,” she said. “They get very excited, they get very worried.”

Ms. Simmons said even the zoo’s first cub, born in 1999, is still popular.

“She was a star,” Ms. Simmons said of Hua Mei, who was the first giant panda to be born in the Western Hemisphere since 1990. “She made People magazine, and San Diego’s most-watched person. She still is, even though she went back to China many years ago.”

The District had a similar experience in 2005, when Mei Xiang gave birth to Tai Shan.

Story Continues →