Panda cub drawing votes for her name

Updated: 2013-11-07 07:41

By CHEN WEIHUA in Washington (China Daily USA)

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Panda cub drawing votes for her name

Visitors watch giant panda Mei Xiang, mother of the unnamed cub, eat an apple icicle in the yard of the David M. Rubenstein Family Panda Habitat at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo on Wednesday afternoon. The naming for her daughter, which started on Tuesday, has received a good response from panda lovers. Chen Weihua / China Daily

Giant pandas have long been the darlings of visitors to the Smithsonian National Zoo, so it's little wonder that when the zoo asked people to name its new giant panda cub starting at 2 pm Tuesday, the response was overwhelming.

Outside the fence of the David M. Rubenstein Family Panda Habitat on Wednesday afternoon, one woman, who had volunteered at the zoo for five years, said she voted for Bao Bao. Pronounced "bow bow", it means precious treasure in Chinese and is a common name for babies in China.

In all, five names are up for vote: Ling Hua, which means darling, delicate flower; Long Yun, charming dragon; Mulan, a legendary young woman from Chinese literature; and Zhen Bao, which means valuable treasure.

The volunteer, who declined to be named, said she thinks Mulan is "too Disney" and she didn't choose it.

But a gentleman in the information booth at the zoo's main entrance said many people he met had picked Mulan, a figure they became acquainted with in the Disney movie. He said some voted for Ling Hua, because it reminded them of Ling Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the first giant panda pair that arrived in the US at the National Zoo in 1972 following President Richard Nixon's historic visit to China.

"Vote now, you never know — you might vote for the winning name," said the man.

Some visitors voted on their smartphones near the booth or while watching the cub's mother, Mei Xiang, and father, Tian Tian, play in their pens.

The zoo has promoted the naming event through Facebook and Twitter, as well as its popular electronic newsletter.

Watching Mei Xiang eat an apple icicle on Wednesday afternoon, Cari Bunten and her three children, Cora, Michael and Allen, who had travelled from Kentucky, were very excited to see the panda for the first time.

The entire Bunten family liked the name Bao Bao.

The fluffy panda cub, born on Aug 23, can be seen wobbling on the zoo's 24-7 webcam, but it has yet to be able to make the trip outside into the yard. A zookeeper said visitors may have to wait until January for that.

The cub weighed 8.14 pounds (3.7 kg) on Tuesday, compared to the less than 5 ounces she weighed when she was born, an event also captured on the live webcam at 5:32 pm on Aug 23.

The zoo was shut down and the panda webcam turned off during the 16 days of government shutdown last month. The zoo reopened on Oct 18, a day after the federal government did.

The five names up for vote were submitted by Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai; US Ambassador to China Gary Locke and his family; the giant panda keepers at the National Zoo; the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong; and Friends of the National Zoo.

People in China are also casting votes. The winning name will be announced on Dec 1, when the cub turns 100 days old. It is a traditional for the Chinese to celebrate the 100th day of a new-born baby.

Mei Xiang's first cub, Tai Shan, got his name in 2005 after 200,000 votes were cast. He was shipped back to the giant panda breeding center in Sichuan, China, in 2010 to breed. According to the bilateral agreement between China and the US, giant panda cubs born outside China by parents on loan from China also belong to China.