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Smithsonian Zoo Celebrates Baby Panda Naming

  • David Byrd

After 100 days and more than 123,000 votes, the baby panda cub born at Washington's Smithsonian National Zoo now has a name.

Bao Bao, means “precious” or “treasure,” was chosen through a public online vote.

With lion dancers exciting the crowd and dignitaries looking on, hundreds of panda lovers jammed the zoo’s Panda Plaza to learn the cub’s name.

Bao Bao was born August 23 to Mei Xiang, one of the zoo’s two pandas.

Until now, the cub - who has fascinated online viewers worldwide through the Smithsonian Zoo’s "Panda Cam" - has only been referred to as “she.”

National Zoo Director Dennis Kelly and Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai attend the panda naming ceremony at the National Zoo, Washington, Dec. 1, 2013. (David Byrd/VOA)

National Zoo Director Dennis Kelly and Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai attend the panda naming ceremony at the National Zoo, Washington, Dec. 1, 2013. (David Byrd/VOA)

Five names were submitted - Bao Bao, which means precious or treasure; Ling Hua or darling, delicate flower; Long Yun, a sign of luck for cooperation between China and the U.S.; Mulan, a legendary Chinese female warrior; and Zhen Bao, which means treasure or valuable.

There were 123,039 votes cast by the November 22 deadline. Zoo director Dennis Kelly announced the winning name Sunday.

Lion dancers at the panda naming ceremony at the National Zoo, Washington, Dec. 1, 2013. (David Byrd/VOA)

Lion dancers at the panda naming ceremony at the National Zoo, Washington, Dec. 1, 2013. (David Byrd/VOA)

The cub received her name when she reached 100 days old. China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, said giving the name is a sign of hope for a long life.

“In Chinese tradition, the 100-day celebration is very unique and of special importance, because it represents the wish that the baby will grow up in happiness and good health and will live as long as over 100 years,” he said.

Kerri-Ann Jones, the State Department’s assistant secretary of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, said the new cub represents hope that the species will continue.

“Panda’s like Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, and now this little panda, help people from all over the world to learn about these fascinating animals," she said, "and to understand how important it is to take care of nature and the natural habitats around us.”

Hundreds of people crowded the Panda Plaza at the zoo for the ceremony. Mike Wilmeth of Woodbine, Maryland, his wife Susan and their sons - who were wearing panda baseball caps -- said they have been eagerly awaiting the naming ceremony.

“We’ve known we were going to come since the panda was born," Mike said. "The day it was born we knew that there would be a day-naming ceremony."

"Oh, it’s wonderful. We’ve been waiting for it since he - since she was born," said Susan. "We read in The Washington Post that there was going to be a panda-naming ceremony and we’ve been checking up to see the date of it all fall.”
In this Nov. 29, 2013 photo provided by the Smithsonian National Zoo, a giant panda cub is measured as it is about to turn 100 days old, at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington.

In this Nov. 29, 2013 photo provided by the Smithsonian National Zoo, a giant panda cub is measured as it is about to turn 100 days old, at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington.

The ceremony also included special video messages from first lady Michelle Obama and China’s first lady Peng Liyuan. Both congratulated the zoo on the successful birth of the cub and her 100-day milestone.

Bao Bao will stay with her mother inside the panda enclosure for the next few months. Zoo officials say that she should be out in public sometime early next year. Bao Bao will remain at the Smithsonian Zoo until she is four years old, when she will be sent back to China to produce her own cubs.
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