- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2005

Fans of the National Zoo’s panda cub yesterday snatched up thousands of reservations for next month’s first public viewing of Tai Shan — snagging 13,000 tickets in a little more than two hours.

“We knew from preview ticket sales that the tickets would go fast, but I don’t think we expected it would go quite that fast,” said Matt Olear, a spokesman for the nonprofit group Friends of the National Zoo. “He’s a celebrity and a sensation, that’s for sure.”

Beginning at 9 a.m. yesterday, the free tickets were distributed online on a first-come, first-served basis with designated viewing times. By last evening, the tickets were being sold on EBay with asking prices ranging from $199 for two to $500 for six.

Viewings will be held two hours a day beginning Dec. 8 and ending Jan. 2. Ticket times are in 10-minute intervals, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with about 50 people allowed into the viewing area at a time.

The demand for tickets was so great that the zoo’s Web site (nationalzoo.si.edu) ran slowly and nearly crashed, Mr. Olear said.

“It didn’t actually crash, but people were having some trouble bringing up the page,” he said.

Acquiring a ticket to see the cub is only half the battle, Mr. Olear said.

There is no guarantee that Tai Shan will be in view during the ticket times, he said. If his mother, Mei Xiang, is uncomfortable with the visitors, she could move him out of sight.

“We picked the time frame that we have because we think that will give people the best opportunity to go in and actually see the cub, and maybe the cub with his mom. But there is no guarantee,” Mr. Olear said.

Meanwhile yesterday, Tai Shan, who will be 5 months old on Dec. 9, had his 12th checkup and received a rabies vaccine, the last in a series of five shots, zoo spokeswoman Peper Long said.

“He is pretty healthy,” she said. “His mom goes outside and enjoys bamboo and leaves him alone more and more. He’s getting bigger just like any other developing cub. But he’s still a pretty little fella.”

The cub weighs 19.2 pounds, measures 31.2 inches long and is showing more confidence in the way he moves, Miss Long said.

He will have his next checkup in about 10 days.

Tai Shan, which means “peaceful mountain,” is the zoo’s first panda cub to survive more than a few days.

Mei Xiang and the cub’s father, Tian Tian, are on a 10-year loan from China. Tai Shan will be sent to China when he is 2 years old.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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