WASHINGTON — The National Zoo held a triple-header birthday bash Saturday, celebrating Bei Bei’s first as well as those of his his sister and father, whose birthdays are also coming up. Visitors could not hold in their excitement.
“Oh my God, I love the pandas, I love the pandas,” Emily Holad shouted above the noise of the crowd. The outdoor panda area was packed with legions of panda-loving people who were there to wish little Bei Bei, his sister and their father a happy birthday.
Maria Brown, a 10-year-old from Charlottesville, Virginia, couldn’t contain herself and yelled out “happy birthday” at the sight of Tian Tian, who was coming outside to enjoy his birthday treat, which was a nearly 100-pound frozen fruitsicle. Tian Tian’s birthday is Saturday, Aug. 27. He was born in China in 1997 at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda at the Wolong National Nature Reserve.
Tian Tian is the father of all the panda cubs that have been born and survived at the National Zoo, including Tai Shan (born July 9, 2005, and sent to China in February 2010), Bao Bao (whose third birthday is Tuesday, Aug. 23, and will be sent to China when she turns 4) and Bei Bei, whose birthday is Monday.
Panda Keeper Brandie Smith said Bei Bei is a mama’s boy and a “big boy,” weighing in at 70 pounds. That is 25 pounds heavier than what Bao Bao weighed at his age, Smith said.
The 1-year-old is also bigger than his sister because he loves working with his panda keepers for food rewards.
“He loves to train and he loves to get those rewards,” Smith said.
Even though the pandas at the zoo eat mostly bamboo, they also eat fruits and vegetables. But one vegetable Bei Bei doesn’t like is carrots.
“His dad doesn’t like carrots and Bei Bei doesn’t like carrots either,” Smith said.
Smith said Saturday was much more than a supersized birthday party — it was a celebration of having four pandas in the Panda House at the National Zoo: Tian Tian, Bao Bao, Bei Bei and mother Mei Xiang.
“We’re just so blessed to celebrate the birth of these endangered species with everyone in the D.C. area and around the world,” Smith said.
The panda conservation program (research and breeding program) between the U.S. and China is nearly 45 years old, said National Zoo Director Dennis Kelly.
The pandas are on loan to the United States from China, he said. Mei Xiang was only supposed to be in the U.S. for 10 years — she and Tian Tian arrived in the U.S. in December 2000 — but Kelly said that the time period has been extended, and the issue will be brought up again in 2020.
Due to the success of the breeding program, Kelly said he is confident the zoo will have pandas for a long time.
Tai Shan was the zoo’s first cub to be born and to live. He was a major celebrity at the National Zoo. It was a sad day for his fans at the zoo when he was sent to China to join a breeding program. But Kelly said he has visited Tai Shan in China and that he is doing very well.
“Tai Shan is a rock star in China,” he said.
Watch Bei Bei celebrate his birthday: