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Bao Bao, the baby panda at Smithsonian's National Zoo, is celebrating her first birthday. Giant pandas are endangered and fewer than 2,000 remain on Earth, making Bao Bao's very existence special and the act of raising her all the more critical. Track her evolution with her caretakers, from a scrawny 4.5 oz. cub to a playful 40 lb. bear who spends her days scaling trees and devouring sweet potatoes. And learn about the bittersweet transition that Bao Bao will undergo when she leaves her mother's care and grows into independent adulthood.

Celebrate Bao Bao's Birthday With a Party and This Recap of Her First Year

Hot off her recent win in the Smithsonian Summer Showdown, D.C.'s favorite panda celebrates her first birthday on August 23

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Hard to believe that one short year ago on August 23, the National Zoo welcomed its second surviving panda cub, the much-treasured Bao Bao.

Befitting such a momentous anniversary, the National Zoo is inviting the public to a special birthday celebration beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday, August 23. Nibble on "Bearitos" snacks, decorate a birthday card for Bao Bao and her dedicated panda keepers, and maybe even snag a free (first-come, first-served) personalized, limited-edition mini-Coke can. If you’re a Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) member, the fun starts two hours earlier with a private viewing of Bao Bao and continues with commemorative panda party hats, a free game download from savingpandas.com, and a slice of birthday cake. Bao Bao and Mei Xiang, her mother, will enjoy a separate cake of frozen panda treats made especially for them. 

The past year has been a big one for Bao Bao. In addition to learning how to climb trees and eat solid foods, the 40-pound panda now recognizes her name when called by her keepers and stands on her hind legs when asked, much to the delight of her many fans. As Bao Bao continues to develop over the next six months, Mei Xiang will begin physically and socially weaning her, a process of distancing herself from Bao Bao in a way that is similar to how a cub grows independent of its mother in the wild. This will help to prepare the cub for her departure from D.C. for China, which is currently scheduled for 2017. To facilitate her care, keepers will be working diligently with Bao Bao to teach her strategic behaviors so that she is able to respond to veterinary care and and other interactions with humans and pandas in anticipation of when she is able to breed, beginning at around age four.

Can't make the party in person? FONZ encourages everyone to tweet their birthday wishes to the one-year-old panda using #BaoBaoBday to show support for panda conservation efforts.  

In photos taken just a few days ago, Bao Bao romps around her enclosure and mugs for the camera. (Abby Wood, Smithsonian's National Zoo via Flickr)
(Abby Wood, Smithsonian's National Zoo via Flickr)
(Abby Wood, Smithsonian's National Zoo via Flickr)
(Abby Wood, Smithsonian's National Zoo via Flickr)
(Abby Wood, Smithsonian's National Zoo via Flickr)
(Abby Wood, Smithsonian's National Zoo via Flickr)
On April 2, Bao Bao's second day outside, she sampled some bamboo with her mother, though she still prefers fruitsicles. (Abby Wood, Smithsonian's National Zoo via Flickr)
(Abby Wood, Smithsonian's National Zoo via Flickr)
(Abby Wood, Smithsonian's National Zoo via Flickr)
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