May 24, 2024

Bei Bei’s Return to China Invites Look Back at Famous D.C. Panda

Author: Jonny Lupsha, News Writer
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By Jonny Lupsha, News Writer

A giant panda cub born at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. is back in China, The Washington Post reported. Bei Bei, who has warmed hearts around the world for years, has finished his flight home and is adjusting to life on a new continent. His time in America is well-storied.

Bei Bei the Panda in Washington D.C. National Zoo
Bei Bei, the well-known, giant panda cub born at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is back in China. His time in America is well-storied. Photo by Ron Cogswell / Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Bei Bei was born to his mother Mei Xiang and his father Tian Tian in August 2015, according to The Washington Post article. His recent and permanent return to China coincides with that nation’s zoological agreements with other countries—chiefly that pandas are to be returned to China after they turn age 4 to enter into China’s breeding program for the much-loved giant pandas. For years, the breeding program has kept the threat of Panda extinction at bay. Bei Bei may have left the United States, but during his time here, he made quite an impression on fans worldwide and he left them with many a story to tell.

Bei Bei’s Birthday Celebrations

One of the heights of Bei Bei’s stay at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., commonly known as the National Zoo, was his annual birthday celebrations—and yes, there was always cake.

“Pandas live every day like it’s their birthday,” said Dr. Brandie Smith, associate director for Animal Care Sciences at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. “So, every day they wake up, they have their favorite treats, their favorite things to do.” Dr. Smith described Bei Bei’s past birthday celebrations as being special because Bei Bei always got “an incredibly spectacular cake” that he enjoyed “in front of all of his visitors.”

Despite pandas’ round, fluffy appearances, zookeepers aren’t filling them up on sweets. Bei Bei’s birthday cake wasn’t just full of sugar, flour, milk, and eggs. Instead, Dr. Smith said they gave him a cake that was made of healthy treats.

“A little fruit juice, maybe some sweet potatoes, some apple slices, maybe a bit of honey in there for him,” she said. “So it’s a healthy cake, but it’s pretty much a spectacular creation that he can eat, he can climb on, he can destroy.”

“Like any toddler’s birthday, right? They end up at the end of the day covered in cake.”

Why We Love Pandas

Most baby animals are lauded as adorable little creatures, but many tend to age out of their cuteness. Pandas, however, are another story. There’s something about their shape and behavior that endears them to people well into the animals’ adulthood. It’s called neoteny.

“Pandas really have all of the features that we as humans are drawn to—they’re very baby-like to us,” Dr. Smith said. “They’ve got round faces and the dark patches on their eyes give them the impression of these big, round eyes.”

Pandas aren’t just cute, they’re also approachable. Dr. Smith said that since they aren’t carnivores like many other zoo animals, we don’t fear them or hesitate around them.

“I think that a lot of people feel that if they got to know a panda, they could be friends with them,” she said. “We’re fascinated with pandas; we see pandas [and] there is literally a biochemical release. When you see a species that evokes that response in you, you’re actually releasing oxytocin, a happiness hormone.”

“So watching pandas makes you a better, more empathetic person.”

Dr. Brandie Smith contributed to this article. Dr. Smith is the associate director for Animal Care Sciences at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C.

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