WASHINGTON — Some kids have clowns and magicians at their birthday parties. But one very popular birthday boy at the National Zoo had a celebration with dancers in dragon costumes, percussionists beating on drums, and throngs of admirers penning good luck wishes onto red ribbons.
And his present was one that many had awaited since his birth 100 days ago: a name. On Monday, the zoo’s baby giant panda was dubbed “Tai Shan,” Chinese for “peaceful mountain.”
The name, one of five proposed for the cub, received 44 percent of the more than 202,000 votes cast on the zoo’s Web site. The little panda went without a name for its first 100 days in observance of a Chinese custom that originally applied to humans.
“In traditional China, when a baby grows to 100 days, it’s supposed to be very strong,” said Zheng Zheguang, deputy chief at the Chinese Embassy. “That tradition has also lent itself to the panda family.”
But for Tai Shan, those 100 days have even greater meaning, since it’s rare for pandas born in captivity to live more than a few days. Tai Shan is only the United States’ fourth — and the National Zoo’s first — panda cub to survive this long.
The cub took his first steps last week and has started exhibiting a healthy playfulness, zoo officials said. On Sunday, his mother, Mei Xiang, was resting when he stretched up and touched his nose to hers, then swatted her with his paw. When the mother came down from her platform and picked him up, he squirmed and swatted her again.
Sneak peek for one lucky fan
His handlers are slowly introducing him to the exhibit enclosure where he’s expected to go on public view in December, once Mei Xiang is comfortable being separated from him, zoo officials said.
“She’s going to be the one to let us know,” said chief veterinarian Suzan Murray.
But at least one panda fan got a sneak peek at the cub. Rod Sallee, 61, was randomly selected from those who voted for the cub’s name to get a private tour of the panda den.
“It’s very exciting to be able to see it in person,” said Sallee, of Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
Tai Shan will be sent to China when he is 2. Mei Xiang and the father, Tian Tian, are on a 10-year loan from China.
“I hope that Tai Shan has a long and prosperous and happy life,” Yan Xun, a director at China’s conservation department, said through an interpreter. “And I hope it represents a long and prosperous relationship between the United States and China.”
The China Wildlife Conservation Association and zoo officials had selected five names from which voters could choose. The others were: Hua Sheng, which means “China Washington” and “magnificent;” Sheng Hua, which means “Washington China” and “magnificent;” Long Shan, which means “dragon mountain;” and Qiang Qiang, which means “strong, powerful.”
Susan Langan, 33, said she voted for the winning name after watching the cub on the zoo’s online “Panda Cam.”
“He just sleeps very peacefully, so I thought it was a very appropriate name,” she said.
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