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National Zoo's Panda Cub Named Bao Bao

The panda cub at the Smithsonian's National Zoo awaits a name. This photo was taken in November 2013. (Image credit: Abby Wood, Smithsonian's National Zoo.)

The newest giant panda cub at the Smithsonian's National Zoo was named Bao Bao on Sunday (Dec. 1) in a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Panda mom Mei Xiang gave birth to the female cub on Aug. 23, but in keeping with Chinese tradition, the baby bear was not named until it was 100 days old.

More than 123,000 people voted in a public poll to name the cub. Bao Bao, which means "treasure" or "precious," beat out four other Mandarin monikers, including:

  • Ling Hua: darling, delicate flower.
  • Long Yun: Long is the Chinese symbol of the dragon, while Yun means charming. Combined this represents a sign of luck for panda cooperation between China and the U.S.
  • Mulan: a legendary young woman and brave Chinese warrior from the fifth century; it also means magnolia flower in Chinese.
  • Zhen Bao: treasure, valuable.

During the naming ceremony, the success of the panda breeding program was praised by zoo officials, the Chinese ambassador and U.S. first lady Michelle Obama.

"Pandas like this one have a long proud history here in Washington," Mrs. Obama said in a video message broadcast at the naming ceremony. "In fact it was a first lady, Pat Nixon, who helped start panda diplomacy."

Mrs. Obama called the bear "a symbol of the growing connection between our two countries" and hailed the "groundbreaking biological and ecological research" that has come out of collaborations between Chinese and American scientists to conserve pandas.

As of Nov. 22, the cub weighed 10.8 pounds (4.9 kilograms), according to the Smithsonian. Last month, the little one also was able to get her hind legs underneath her and stand up. "She hasn't gotten very far yet though, she's only takes a few steps before sitting back down and crawling," the Smithsonian's panda cub update reads. [See Photos of Mei Xiang and Her Cub

Zoo officials said Mei Xiang and Bao Bao will be on display after the holidays, but for now they can be spotted on the zoo’s panda cam.

Only one other zoo in the United States welcomed newborn giant pandas this year. In July, Zoo Atlanta's female Lun Lun gave birth to male twin panda cubs. Those brothers also were named in a public vote; they are now called Mei Lun and Mei Huan, which originate from a Chinese idiom that translates to "something indescribably beautiful and magnificent."

Giant pandas are endangered in the wild. Only about 1,600 are thought to exist in a few fragmented forest habitats in China. All pandas in zoos in United States belong to China and most cubs return to their ancestral homeland after a few years to join China's captive breeding program.

The newly named cub's papa is the zoo's male giant panda Tian Tian, according to paternity tests reported in September. Zoo officials needed the test because after natural breeding attempts between Mei Xiang and Tian Tian were unsuccessful, the female was artificially inseminated twice on March 30. Whereas the first insemination involved fresh semen and frozen semen collected in 2003, all from Tian Tian, the second insemination used a mix of Tian Tian's frozen semen and frozen semen collected from Gao Gao, of the San Diego Zoo, in 2003. The paternity testing also revealed Mei Xiang's second cub, a stillborn, which was delivered on Aug. 24, was a female also sired by Tian Tian. The two cubs were fraternal twins, according to the Smithsonian.

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Megan Gannon
Megan Gannon
Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.