Weighing in at 17 1/2 pounds, 4-month-old giant panda cub Bei Bei made his media debut Wednesday at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Keepers say the cub, born in August, is developmentally on track and ahead of his older sister Bao Bao in some milestones. The cub will make his public debut on Jan. 16.
“He’s actually walking a lot sooner than his older sister did,” said panda keeper Juan Rodriguez. “He’s about 4 or so pounds heavier than his sister was at this same age, so he’s definitely a much larger bear and developing a lot faster than his sister did.”
Rodriguez said Bei Bei’s emerging personality is one many parents can appreciate. “When he wakes up he’s fine … [but] at some point he wants to have more food, milk or just wants to be on his own to explore his habitat on his own.” Sister Bao Bao, who is now 2 years old, “was a lot more relaxed,” he said. Rodriguez said Bei Bei is also much louder than his sister was at that age.
Also unlike Bao Bao, who was more independent, Rodriguez guesses Bei Bei will be a little more of a “momma’s boy, a little closer to mom, which is great. That’s what we want to see.”
Bei Bei, pronounced “Bay-Bay,” was named by first lady Michelle Obama and China’s first lady, Madame Peng Liyuan, in September. The name means “precious treasure.”
At Tuesday’s debut, the cub was shown off to the media, then Bei Bei cuddled with mom Mei Xiang while dad Tian Tian enjoyed a few rounds of bamboo breakfast.
And in case you’re wondering if being panda keeper to Bei Bei is as good as it sounds, Rodriguez said it is. “You never get tired of it … it’s always a very unique and special moment.”
“This is a really critically endangered species, so [while holding the cub] at that moment in time I’m like ‘please do not drop this really important species, very precious species,'” Rodriguez said. “It’s a great feeling. … There’s definitely that bonding that some of us have that are parents here — that they can sort of feel that fatherly or motherly bond with them.”
The cub will go to China when he is 4 years old to enter the breeding program there, as previous pandas from the zoo have done. It’s part of a cooperative agreement with China.
Bei Bei took his first steps last month, though as local site DCist notes, the more important milestone may have been when he stopped looking like “a creepy mole rat and started actually resembling a panda.”
The public can see Bei Bei at the National Zoo starting in January, but if you can’t make it to Washington D.C., or you just can’t wait that long, you can always watch Bei Bei and his family on the zoo’s live panda cams.