Panda cub Bao Bao debuts in extended hours at National Zoo

WASHINGTON – In an effort to feed Bao Bao mania, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo has announced extended hours the weekend of Jan. 18 at its Giant Panda Habitat.

There will also be a special InstaMeet scheduled for Feb. 1, according to the National Zoo.

Visitors to the zoo will have the opportunity to see Bao Bao for the first time since her mother, Mei Xiang, was under pregnancy watch in July. Viewing will begin on Saturday, Jan. 18, at 8 a.m. at the panda house, which will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., from Jan. 18 through Jan. 20.

Visitors will be allowed into the house in small groups to avoid overcrowding on a first-come-first-served basis, according to zoo representatives. Bao Bao and Mei Xiang will have access to the den during those times, and may choose to spend time in it instead of the exhibit.

Beginning Jan. 21, the panda house will open only to Friends of the National Zoo, from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. At 10 a.m., the panda house will open to the general public.

“The amount of time Bao Bao and her mother Mei Xiang will be on exhibit each day will depend on the bears’ behavior,” according to a release from the zoo. “As time passes, Bao Bao is expected to be more visible in her enclosure.”

On Tuesday, the zoo launched its Instagram account, @SmithsonianZoo, with an animal “selfie” video of Bao Bao.

To generate even more buzz, 30 lucky Instagrammers following the Instagram account will be given special early access to the panda house to see Bao Bao Saturday, Feb. 1, for an InstaMeet or “#ZooMeet.”

Instagrammers must register for the InstaMeet, and will have half an hour to view and take photos of Bao Bao before the panda house opens to the public. Members of the panda team will also be available to answer questions. To register for the InstaMeet, go to the National Zoo website.

And, of course, Bao Bao will continue to be visible on the zoo’s panda cams, which have received more than 9.5 million views since Bao Bao’s birth Aug. 23, 2013.

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