Giant Panda Cub Update: Smithsonian's National Zoo, Oct. 17, 2013. Photo: Bill Clements, Smithsonian's National Zoo
Giant Panda Cub Update: Smithsonian's National Zoo, Oct. 17, 2013. Photo: Bill Clements, Smithsonian's National Zoo

A baby panda born at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. is about to pass a milestone - 100 days.  The cub, the star of the zoo's Internet Panda Camera, is about to receive her name.  The cub is the newest addition to the effort to preserve and protect the endangered animals.

On a chilly, overcast November day at Washington’s National Zoo, only a few patrons wandered the brick-colored paths.  Christmas decorations - some of them featuring giant pandas - are in place as the zoo prepares for the holiday season.

One panda has been the center of international attention - a tiny female who still does not have a name.

The cub was born August 23 and more than two million people have watched her grow on the zoo’s “panda cam.”  Though she was pink and hairless and weighed only 136 grams two days after her birth, the cub now has a full coat of fur and is showing her black and white colors to online viewers. She weighs nearly 4.7 kilograms and has begun to crawl across her enclosure.  

Brandie Smith, the curator of the Giant Panda exhibit, says that the cub is helping the public learn the importance of saving these animals.

“Giant Pandas are an endangered species and every single additional panda in the world makes a difference.  So with these animals, one more baby makes a difference," said Smith.

Smith says that zoo staff has been familiarizing the cub with their voices in order to make caring for her easier.

“We have a training language with them so that we can interact and we can do the necessary things we do to keep them healthy and safe," she said.

Although the pandas’ main food is bamboo, animal keeper Nicole MacCorkle explains that right now the cub’s mother Mei Xiang is her only source of nutrition.

“Eventually, when the cub is about six-months-old - so about three months from now - she’ll start sampling some bamboo, but she’ll still be drinking some milk until she is about a year and a half, or even closer to two-years-old," said MacCorkle.

The giant panda cub is also about to receive her name. Since November 5, more than 100,000 people have voted at the Zoo’s website for one of five choices - Bao Bao, which means precious or treasure; Ling Hua, darling or delicate flower; Long Yun, which represents a sign of luck; Mulan, a legendary fifth-century Chinese female warrior; and Zhen Bao, which means treasure or valuable.

The voting closes at 4:59 UTC on November 22.  The cub will officially receive her name at a special ceremony at the zoo on December 1 when she turns 100 days old. The voting website is available in both English and Mandarin.

Leigh Mays takes her 1st grade class to see the ba
Leigh Mays takes her 1st grade class to see the baby panda at the National Zoo, Washington, D.C., Nov. 21, 2013. Photo: David Byrd/VOA

On this morning, teacher Leigh Mays and her first grade class from Washington’s Thompson Elementary School crowd onto the path overlooking the Panda enclosure. Mays says that her students have been learning about animals, especially pandas, as part of their studies.

“We’re doing animal research projects. So it was a perfect time to come and see the zoo, and so yesterday we watched the pandas on the panda cam and picked the name after we talked about what they all meant," said Mays.

One of Mays’ students, an Asian-American boy who identified himself as Calvin, said that he and his classmates voted for Mulan for a specific reason.

“You know I liked the name, because [she’s] a brave woman warrior. It’s like, I really like the name because out in the wild by itself, it has to be brave," said Calvin.

This panda cub will not be out in the wild any time soon. Curator Brandie Smith says the cub will be with its mother for the next several months and will not be seen in public until January.  At the age of four, the cub will be sent back to China to find a mate and have her own cubs.