Don't be fooled by its cute nose, its friendly-looking eyes, its cow-like coloring, or the overzealous joy that's infected the team over at The National Zoo. This baby panda is going to be expensive, a pain, and is certain to have an over-exposed life ahead of it--and the National Zoo knows it.
"We’re ecstatic," said the National Zoo's Don Moore in an interview with The Washington Post. "We gave this a very low percentage. We were prepared for another disappointment. . . . We bucked the odds . . . and we’ve got a baby on the ground."
Usually phrases "low percentage" and "another disappointment" or "bucked the odds," are associated with casino gambling. And if your friend or relative or member of your bachelor party is making another trip to an ATM (after giving that Wheel of Fortune slot machine all of their money) all shaky-handed, possibly drunk and glossy-eyed, you tell them to call it a night. But that hasn't been the case with pandas, whose cuteness outweighs the very fact that these animals are actually pretty expensive and don't do much else ... including giving birth to other pandas.
Pandas have a hilariously low birth-rate. And The National Zoo knows this first-hand. Since 2007, new mother Mei Xiang has had five consecutive false pregnancies. And pandas not giving birth is actually pretty standard. For example, when panda Lun Lun gave birth in 2006, her cub was the only fifth cub born in America since 1990. And birthing and hosting these animals cost a lot of money and as we noted in May, pandas have actually sent zoos into financial turmoil thanks to the expensive care they require. And some zoos, like Edinburg's, have agreed to pay the Chinese government $1 million a year as a deal to display the crowd-drawing animals since in 2007 China said it would not be giving any more pandas as gifts. The National Zoo, as The Los Angeles Times's Richard Simon reports, pays China around $550,000 per year for its pandas and will continue to do so under an agreement that runs through 2015.
With all that money on the line, you could see why The National Zoo has done its best impersonation of Kardashian broodmother and master attention-seeker Kris Jenner of late, and pimped this birth into an "event." Livestream of Mei Xiang's artificial insemination? Check. Live pictures of the sperm that will inseminate Mei Xiang? Yes. 24-hour-a-day panda live feed? You bet. Tweets that the panda keepers have not slept in 24 hours? Of course. A #cubwatch hashtag? Surely.
And the constant Panda focus has worked (not just that news outlets are writing about the baby panda). “I’ve been crying all day,” said Holly O’Brien-Yao, 58, told The Post. "I’ve been praying for something really wonderful to happen to me, and this does it," she added. Another even got philosophical:
Anthea Higgins, 43, of Potomac, who was visiting the zoo with her children, Sean, 8, and Caroline, 6, said the panda birth was “spectacular.”
In a chaotic world, “it’s a little piece of hope,” she said.
And they hope that more people will be like O'Brien-Yao and Higgins, no not praying to the great panda-giving deity in the sky, but hoping that people will now visit and spend money--the Zoo, according to a previous WaPo story, was looking for ways to increase revenue since federal funds were shriveling up--and a new baby panda is one way to do that. (The Toronto Zoo is expecting pandas in 2013 and believes that they will increase their visitors by 500,000)
So what's in store for this new panda? Well, from the sound of it, Mei Xiang is being a good mom so that's nice. And if Mei Xiang's unnamed cub doesn't turn out like Butterstick, a baby panda we once had but turned ferocious and thuggy so we shipped him back, The National Zoo might even get to keep the kid and stoke the flames of Pandamania for at least four more years. As part of an agreement with the Chinese government, the Zoo is supposed to be giving the unnamed cub back when it turns four. Sad, right? But that's got to be better than a future full of panda porn, and widely televised and completely invasive breeding that it might have stateside.
Panda pictured above isn't the newborn panda (who are actually not that cute), but it's a lot cuter.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.