National Zoo giant panda cub Bei Bei growing, learning new behaviors

National Zoo's panda mom Mei Xiang has had three cubs, two male and one female. And after an artificial insemination procedure, she may become pregnant again soon. (Courtesy National Zoo)
National Zoo’s panda mom Mei Xiang has had three cubs, two male and one female. Keepers say Mei is more engaged with her male cubs much like has been observed elsewhere. Panda experts believe the extended play sessions provide the male cubs social lessons for the future. (Courtesy National Zoo)

Bei Bei, who is pictured here in January 2016, is growing daily and weighed 37 pounds as of March 17, 2016. Training is underway to teach him to come when called and to respond to commands to assist future veterinary check-ups. (Courtesy Smithsonian's National Zoo/Shellie Pick)
Bei Bei, who is pictured here in January, is growing daily and weighed 37 pounds as of March 17. Training is underway to teach him to come when called and to respond to commands to assist future veterinary checkups. (Shellie Pick/Smithsonian’s National Zoo)

Mei Xiang still is nursing Bei Bei so she won't have an estrus cycle this year. Giant Panda male Tian Tian is in the middle of his breeding season and can be restless, so keepers provide him with extra enrichment activities such as a bubble bath tub to play in. (Courtesy National Zoo)
Mei Xiang still is nursing Bei Bei so she won’t have an estrus cycle this year. Giant Panda male Tian Tian is in the middle of his breeding season and can be restless, so keepers provide him with extra enrichment activities such as a bubble bath tub to play in. (Courtesy National Zoo)

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National Zoo's panda mom Mei Xiang has had three cubs, two male and one female. And after an artificial insemination procedure, she may become pregnant again soon. (Courtesy National Zoo)
Bei Bei, who is pictured here in January 2016, is growing daily and weighed 37 pounds as of March 17, 2016. Training is underway to teach him to come when called and to respond to commands to assist future veterinary check-ups. (Courtesy Smithsonian's National Zoo/Shellie Pick)
Mei Xiang still is nursing Bei Bei so she won't have an estrus cycle this year. Giant Panda male Tian Tian is in the middle of his breeding season and can be restless, so keepers provide him with extra enrichment activities such as a bubble bath tub to play in. (Courtesy National Zoo)

WASHINGTON — The National Zoo’s giant panda cub turns 8 months old Friday and is being trained to be well behaved.

Teaching Bei Bei to come inside when called involves keepers using food as rewards, zoo biologist Laurie Thompson writes in the April 19 “Giant Panda Bulletin.”

Bei Bei weighed 37 pounds when last on a scale, so he’s starting more specialized training that will assist keepers and veterinarians as he gets ever larger.

Thompson’s panda family update details how Bei Bei’s older sister, the ever curious Bao Bao, likes to climb trees to spy on keepers when they’re working close to her yard.

Watch of video of Bei Bei climbing a tree in February:

Now that mom, Mei Xiang, has had three cubs, keepers are noticing a trend observed elsewhere — panda moms are more actively engaged with male cubs. Panda experts theorize the extended-play sessions provide the male cubs helpful social lessons for the future.

As for what’s new with the panda family’s dad, Tian Tian, he loves water, getting squirted with a hose and playing in a tub of bubble bath. Tian Tian is getting extra enrichment activities now from zoo keepers because it’s the middle of his rutting, or breeding season, and he can be restless.

Mei Xiang won’t be fertile this year because she’s still nursing Bei Bei.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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