The little panda cub Bei Bei made an energetic and very vocal appearance before cameras this morning to receive a check-up from the National Zoo’s veterinarian. The cub weighed in at a whopping 18 pounds. And while squirming, wiggling and squealing, he was given the fourth of his canine distemper vaccine shots. On hand to help were his keepers, Juan Rodriguez and Nicole MacCorkle, reproductive biologist Pierre Comizzoli and Brandi Smith, the associate director of animal care.
The bottom line is that Bei Bei is healthy, says veterinarian Don Neiffer. “We’ve seen progressive increase in body weight, increase in mobility. All of his teeth are coming in. He’s developing normally both in behavior and physically.”
In fact, Bei Bei was even taking quite a few vigorous steps this morning around his enclosure. A number of Zoo officials declared this could be “baby’s first steps,” but keeper Juan Rodriguez said that no, he’d seen Bei Bei make a few moves in recent days.
“He’s very close to his mom,” says Rodriguez, “not that Bao Bao wasn’t. But ultimately that’s going to be very beneficial to us, especially as he ventures out into his habitat. That’s excellent news for us, because when Mom comes in then Bei Bei comes in.”
Rodriguez says that the previous cub Bao Bao had been a bit unruly. When it was time to come in for the night, Bao Bao would stay out playing in her yard.
The playfulness of the panda was evident with everyone in the room wishing they could pick Bei Bei up and give him a squeeze. "Giant pandas are like a teddy bear that has come to life," says Brandie Smith, associate director animal care. "So people see this adorable creature and they want to know more about them."
After his vet exam, Bei Bei was taken back to his enclosure where he took a few steps in his rocky lair and then dropped with exhaustion. A few minutes later his mother Mei Xiang wandered in, picked him up and gently cradled him as he slept.
"This is an incredibly charismatic animal," Smith says, adding that the success that the Zoo has had with the Giant Panda cub births is something to celebrate.
Bei Bei will make his public debut at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. on January 16, 2016.