Panda cub nuzzles mom
Jessie Cohen  /  AP
Tai Shan, a 4-month-old giant panda cub, nuzzles his mother Mei Xiang at the National Zoo in Washington Monday in this photo released by the zoo.
updated 11/21/2005 7:54:56 PM ET 2005-11-22T00:54:56

He doesn't sing, dance or tell jokes, and he's not exactly a household name. But Tai Shan was without question the hottest ticket in town Monday.

While the name might be more familiar to his handlers, Tai Shan is best known simply as the panda cub at the National Zoo. And thousands of people hoping for a glimpse when he goes on display next month flocked to the Internet for a chance at a ticket.

"There were spaces for about 13,000 people," said Matt Olear with the nonprofit group Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ), which supports zoo programs. "And they all went in about two hours."

The cub will be on display just two hours a day starting December 8. The zoo made timed tickets available in ten minute intervals, with about 50 people allowed in at a time. While the ducats are free, anyone wanting them had to attempt to get on the FONZ Web site.

"It didn't actually crash. But people were having some trouble bringing up the page," Olear said.

For those who came away successful, it still doesn't ensure they'll catch a glimpse of Tai Shan, pronounced ty-SHUN', Chinese for "peaceful mountain."

"We picked the time frame that we have because we think that will give people the best opportunity to go in and actually see the cub, and maybe the cub with his mom. But there is no guarantee," Olear said. It depends in large part how comfortable mother Mei Xiang is with the whole thing. Also, there are other potential distractions, like if the cub decides to nap in a patch of bamboo.

By early evening, a dozen tickets were being hawked on eBay. One seller was asking $500 for six tickets, promising 10 percent would go to the ASPCA. Another wanted $199 for two tickets, with a percentage going to Greenpeace.

Tai Shan gets teeth checked
Jessie Cohen  /  AP
Tai Shan gets his teeth checked by zoo veterinarian Ellen Bronson on Monday in this photo released by the National Zoo.

Tai Shan had his 12th medical exam Monday and got a rabies shot, the last of his inoculations. He now weighs 19.2 pounds and measures 31.2 inches long. No worse for wear, after his exam he went right out to climb some rocks in the panda exhibit. Zoo experts said he shows more confidence in the way he moves.

Born July 9, Tai Shan is the National Zoo's first panda cub to survive this long. He will be sent to China when he is 2, while Mei Xiang and the father, Tian Tian, are on a 10-year loan from China. They are the successors to the original panda pair gifted to the National Zoo by the Chinese government during President Nixon's 1972 visit.

The tickets given away Monday run through January 2. What happens after that remains to be seen. The hope is by the time the first wave of visitors passes through, the viewing times can be lengthened beyond a two hour block.

"Once the cub gets older and more independent and mobile, and the mother is more comfortable leaving him in the exhibit for a longer period of time, we'll eventually be extending those hours," Olear said.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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