- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
They're cute, cuddly, oh, so popular and a year older.
The National Zoo yesterday celebrated the first anniversary for pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who have drawn 2.5 million visitors since going on display Dec. 6, 2000.
The young pandas have not only grown in popularity in that time, zoo officials said.
"They've gained muscle mass, not just weight. They're really very fit," said zoo Director Lucy Spelman, a veterinarian.
Tian Tian, the male, has increased in weight by nearly 20 percent to 257 pounds. Mei Xiang, a female, now weighs 200 pounds, an increase of 40 percent.
The pair live a life some might envy.
They eat 80 pounds of bamboo each day, as well as carrots, apples, sugar cane and feed biscuits.
"They eat, sleep and play. Those are their three activities," Dr. Spelman said.
In addition to most of the visitors to the zoo, a team of scientists watches over the pair, studying their behavior, diet, habitat preferences and reproductive development.
The pandas remain the property of the China Wildlife Conservation Association, which has claim to any offspring. The National Zoo is paying China $10 million to exhibit the pandas for 10 years.
Mei Xiang failed to exhibit evidence of fertility last year, but Dr. Spelman said the pandas will be watched closely between February and May.
"We're measuring their hormones," Dr. Spelman said.
Researchers hope the data will help them create better management programs for pandas kept in zoos, as well as for those roaming preserves in central China, where only about 1,000 of the animals remain in the wild.
The data collected also will be used to help design an expanded panda display expected to open in 2004.
"They both like to play and sit in water," said Lisa Stevens, senior curator of the panda exhibit. "Mei Xiang particularly likes to climb trees, so we're going to incorporate those into the new exhibit."
The new facility will cover about 35,000 square feet.
About 150 giant pandas are held in captive-breeding programs and zoos in China. There are 20 in zoos outside of China, including two in Atlanta and three in San Diego.

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