WASHINGTON (AP) – The “cake” was made from frozen fruit juice, sweet potatoes, carrots and sugar cane, and it lasted about 15 minutes when the giant panda mama Mei Xiang and her young Xiao Qi Ji grabbed it.
National Zoo’s most famous tenants ate an enthusiastic breakfast Saturday in front of adoring crowds as the zoo celebrated 50 years for its iconic panda exchange deal with the Chinese government.
Xiao Qi Ji’s father, Tian Tian, sat pretty much outside at the morning festivities, chewing bamboo in a neighboring room, while the sound of his chomping could be clearly heard during a statement by Chinese Ambassador Qin Gang. The ambassador praised the bears as “a symbol of friendship” between nations.
Pandas are almost completely lonely by nature, and in the wild, Tian Tian would probably never even meet his child. He got a similar cake for lunch.
In addition to celebrating the 1972 agreement triggered by President Richard Nixon’s landmark visit to China, Saturday’s celebration also highlighted the success of the Giant Panda Global Breeding Program, which has helped bring the bears back from the brink of extinction.
Xiao Qi Ji’s birth in August 2020 was hailed as an almost miracle due to Mei Xiang’s advanced age and the fact that the zoo staff performed the artificial insemination procedure under tight restrictions shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic closed the entire zoo. At the age of 22, Mei Xiang was the oldest giant panda to successfully give birth in the United States.
Normally, they would have used a combination of frozen semen and fresh semen extracted from Tian Tian. However, to minimize the number of dense medical procedures, zoo officials used only frozen semen.
“It was definitely a long-term pregnancy,” said Bryan Amaral, zoo’s senior mammal curator.
In honor of the long shot, the now 20-month-old got a name that can be translated as “little miracle”. His birth in the midst of the pandemic triggered a new wave of panda mania, with viewership at the zoo’s panda-cam livestream rising by 1,200 percent.
“I know how passionate people are about pandas,” Amaral said. “I’m not at all surprised by that passion.”
Admittedly, the crowds began to flow directly to the panda section at. 8.00 when the zoo opened. Sisters Lorelai and Everley Greenwell, ages 6 and 5, ran toward the fence, shouting “Pandas! Pandas!”
They saw the kid tumble around, trying to fight his mother and tearing up the zero of the giant 50 standing on the ice cream cake.
“They knew this was coming,” their mother Kayleigh Greenwell of Mount Ranier, Maryland, said of her daughters. “We’ve been talking about it all week.”
Zoo’s original 1972 panda couple, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, were star attractions at the zoo for decades, but panda pregnancies are notoriously difficult and none of their cubs survived.
Mei Xiang and Tian Tian arrived in 2000, and the couple has successfully given birth to three other pups: Tai Shan, Bao Bao and Bei Bei – also by artificial insemination. All were transported to China at the age of 4according to the agreement of the zoo with the Chinese government.
Similar agreements with zoos around the world have helped revitalize the giant panda population. Down to well over 1000 bears in the 1980s, the species has since been removed from the lists of animals in danger of extinction.