Pets & Animals

Baby panda has a name — and Michelle Obama helped come up with it

Finally, we have a name to call the baby panda cub born last month at the National Zoo. And it’s perfect!

Smithsonian's National Zoo
Keepers had an opportunity to weigh the 4.5 week-old giant panda cub yesterday, Sept. 21, when Mei Xiang left her den to eat. He weighs 2.95 pounds (1,339 grams) and has now surpassed both of his older siblings in size when they were the same age.

The little guy is called “Bei Bei,” pronounced “Bay Bay,” which is probably what we’d say over and over anyway if we got to cuddle the chubby cub. The name means “precious treasure,” and is meant to go well with his big sister’s name, Bao Bao.

Most babies are named the day they’re born, or not long after, but with pandas there’s a Chinese tradition at work. It is customary to wait 100 days before naming the baby. Hence Bei Bei's wait for a name.

First lady Michelle Obama and the first lady of China, Peng Liyuan, came up with the name "Bei Bei" together. They announced it by each unveiling a scroll that bore the name — one in English, the other in Chinese — at a ceremony at the zoo Friday.

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP
First lady Michelle Obama and China’s first lady Peng Liyuan, reveal the name of the panda born at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington on Aug. 22, during a visit to the zoo in Washington, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. The name is Bei Bei, which means “precious treasure.” It was chosen by both the Chinese and American first ladies. They were assisted by students from from Yu Ying Public Charter School, a Chinese-immersion, International Baccalaureate school. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

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Bei Bei, who zoo officials say now weighs about three pounds — 10 times what it weighed at birth — could be seen at the ceremony on a panda cam.

Smithsonian's National Zoo
The cub was visible on the panda cams and sleeping for much of the day, which is normal for a cub his age. Keepers noticed that he sleeps with his paw over his eyes, which is a position Tian Tian and Bao Bao frequently sleep in as well. Mei Xiang left the den four times for varying lengths of time: around 8 a.m. for five minutes, around 10 a.m. for 10 minutes, around 11 a.m. for five minutes, and around 4 p.m. for seven minutes. She also ate a pear for the first time since giving birth. Pears are one of her favorite food items.

His mother, Mei Xiang, was cuddling him inside her den.

But big sister Bao Bao, who is now 2 years old, was ready to party! She could be seen strutting out into the panda yard and dug into Bei Bei’s birthday cake — a pagoda-shaped “panda cake,” which was made of fruit and ice. This is essentially a giant popsicle for pandas. You go, Bao Bao!

Thankfully, Bei Bei whose eyes are not yet open, is said to be doing very well, which is especially good news, considering that his twin brother, who was smaller, passed away within a week of being born.

Dennis Kelly, the director at the National Zoo, who was also at the ceremony, said that Bei Bei was bigger than the other two cubs the zoo had welcomed, as reported by the Washington Post.

“A big, fat cub,” Kelly said. “That’s what we want.”

Not only is a big, fat panda cub a joy in itself, it’s also a symbol of friendship between China and America.

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“We do need more bonds to bring the people of our two countries ever more closer, and the giant panda are one of those bonds that we can celebrate to achieve that goal,” Peng said, according to the Washington Post.

Mrs. Obama spoke to the group of children in the audience, encouraging them to take interest in the cultural aspect of the event.

"We’re here because we want young people like you to keep doing what you’re doing and that is connecting with young people in other cultures, exposing yourself to new cultures, learning new languages," she said.

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