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Officials at the National Zoo waited 100 days to name the panda cub, following Chinese tradition.
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Bill Clements / Smithsonian National Zoo / AP Images
Meet Bao Bao
The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., has a name for America’s new panda cub

By Laura Leigh Davidson

The newest giant panda cub born in the United States finally has a name: The cub is Bao Bao, which means “precious” or “treasure” in Mandarin Chinese.

Bao Bao was born to panda parents Mei Xiang, the mother, and Tian Tian, the father, on August 23 at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The birth was broadcast live via the zoo’s panda cam.

HAPPY PANDA NAME DAY!

Following Chinese tradition, National Zoo officials waited 100 days after the panda cub was born to give her a name. The zoo received more than 123,000 votes online during November to select the panda’s name. Voters chose Bao Bao from among five choices. The other options were Ling Hua (ling-hwa), Long Yun (long-yoon), Mulan (moo-lahn), and Zhen Bao (jen-bao).

Although Bao Bao and her mother were not able to attend Sunday’s naming ceremony, visitors were still able to gaze at the proud papa, who was relaxing inside the zoo’s panda habitat.

At the time of her naming ceremony, Bao Bao weighed a little more than 11-and-a-half pounds. She took her first steps in November. When she grows up, Bao Bao will probably weigh about 220 pounds and be 4 to 6 feet tall.

ENDANGERED BEARS

Giant pandas are an endangered species. China is believed to have the world’s largest population of the rare bears. Currently, about 1,600 giant pandas live in the forests of China’s Sichuan Province, and about 300 of them live in zoos and other facilities around the world.

Bao Bao is part of a special program in which China lends pandas to zoos in the U.S. and many other countries. Scientists study the rare animals, and visitors can learn more about them. The National Zoo is one of only four facilities in the U.S. that has giant pandas.

After cubs born to visiting pandas in other countries reach a certain age, most of them are sent back to China to help expand the limited population of the endangered species. Bao Bao’s brother, Tai Shan—born to Mei Xiang and Tian Tian in 2005—now lives at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in the Wolong National Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province. When Bao Bao turns 4, she will join her brother in the reserve.

For now, though, Bao Bao will remain at the National Zoo with her mother, growing and developing in conditions that the panda program makes as similar to the animals’ natural, wild habitat as possible. Bao Bao is expected to make her public debut in Washington, D.C., sometime next month.