Image: Mei Lan
Zoo Atlanta via Reuters file
Zoo Atlanta's giant panda cub receives its weekly health check in Atlanta. The zoo unveiled the name of the panda — Mei Lan — in a ceremony Dec. 12.
updated 12/15/2006 6:52:02 PM ET 2006-12-15T23:52:02

Children sang and performers put on a lively dance Friday as Zoo Atlanta unveiled the name of the nation's newest panda cub — Mei Lan, a 12-pound ball of adorableness too young to attend the hoopla.

Mei Lan, which officials said means "Atlanta Beauty," was the most popular name in an online poll at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Web site out of 10 names chosen by the zoo, media organizations and residents in China's Sichuan Province, where the Chengdu panda refuge and breeding center is located.

Little Peach and Bright Star were among the other choices in the poll that drew 57,000 online votes.

Chengdu Director Zhang Zhihe said Mei Lan, pronounced "may-lan," has male overtones, a gift Chinese parents bestow on female children whom they want to step outside traditional roles for women.

"It means her parents want her to be as capable as a boy," Zhihe said. "It is a beautiful name."

Lion dancers performed to ensure good luck and prosperity for little Mei Lan and Chinese-American children sang "Panda Mei Mei" in Chinese.

The honoree did not make an appearance but could be seen via video feed sleeping in her secluded habitat.

Mei Lan took her first shaky steps in seclusion this week, a milestone that means her public debut is just a few weeks away. Until the debut, panda fans have been keeping up with the cub and her mother, Lun Lun, on the zoo's online panda cam.

Nine-year-old Lun Lun gave birth Sept. 6 to the fifth giant panda born at a U.S. zoo in the last six years.

Mei Lan will return eventually to Chengdu to breed. Lun Lun was inseminated in March through a new process that aims to get a nearly pure semen sample from a male panda using massage, zoo officials said.

After several years of trying, the zoo artificially inseminated Lun Lun at the end of March.

Dennis Kelly, the zoo's president and CEO, said the zoo hopes to impregnate Lun Lun again in 18 months.

"This is a happy day along a journey that's going to continue," Kelly said after the ceremony. "We expect more work will be done."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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