The National Zoo throws birthday party for its black and white celebrity

July 12, 2006, midnight | By Poorva Singal | 15 years, 10 months ago

Tai Shan's first birthday attracts thousands to National Zoo

Tai Shan, the National Zoo's adored giant panda cub, turned 1 with a party on Sunday. Thousands of fans came to celebrate as the Zoo continued its efforts to educate the public about this endangered species.

Aside from celebrating his birth, Tai Shan and his birthday party also signifies the success of the Zoo's panda-breeding efforts. After a string of failures in previous years, when the Zoo's panda cubs died in infancy or were stillborn, the growing Tai Shan has become a symbol for progress in preserving the Giant Panda.

The four-hour celebration began at 10 a.m., by which time zoo-goers had already queued up to see the birthday cub. The birthday cub now weighs 55 pounds, and is much more active than when he was just born – when he was approximately the size of a stick of butter. Children and adults alike watched as Tai Shan tried to get his paw on his birthday present: a fruitsicle prepared for the cub by the Zoo nutritionists. However, this was no easy task as his mother, Mei Xiang, wanted some for herself.

With the help of volunteers, children worked on an activity book in which they learned facts about Tai Shan and pandas in general. Visitors had a chance to talk with scientists who have been studying pandas. Zookeepers also had question and answer sessions at the Ed-Zoo-cation station, where fans asked away about Tai Shan and his parents.

While increasing awareness and educating the people about the giant panda, the Zoo also hoped to raise money for conservation efforts. The Friends of the National Zoo encouraged visitors to donate to the Giant Panda Conservation Fund. Part of the proceeds from the tickets purchased at the Zoo from the "Washington Mystics for Panda Night" goes toward panda conservation, as well. The public could also help the endangered species through the "Adopt a Species" program.

Even though Tai Shan has attracted over a million visitors in the past year and more contributions have been made, donations for preserving the species are more than welcome, according to Linda Romano, who works as part of Friends of the National Zoo. "They hope people will contribute more," she said. "I would certainly hope that they would get something to help with the research and development."

Even so, over the past years, much progress has been made with panda studies. After Tian Tian, Tai Shan's father, tried mating unsuccessfully with Mei Xiang, artificial insemination was used and worked successfully.

Tai Shan is very important to the Zoo. "He is a great ambassador, not only for his species but for conservation of wildlife in general," said Program Coordinator Bill Nickel. Tai Shan is also an ambassador for friendship between China and U.S.

As part of an agreement with China, Tai Shan will have to go to China when he is 2 to take part in breeding efforts there. Nickel said discussions are going on in efforts to try to keep him a little longer since Tai Shan will probably not even go into a breeding program until he is 5 or 6.

As for right now, however, Tai Shan is here for the panda lovers. When they cannot see him in the zoo, many view him and his mother through webcams featured on the Zoo's web site and at the Animal Planet's web site.

Poorva Singal. More »

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