Adorable Panda Cub Gets 1st Snow Day in Washington

Washington, D.C.'s beloved panda cub Bao Bao got to play in the snow for the first time today (Jan. 6).

Snow blanketed the nation's capital this morning, forcing the Smithsonian's National Zoo to close to the public. But zoo officials thankfully released adorable footage of the 16-month-old panda cub tumbling down a snowy slope in her enclosure and pouncing on her mother, Mei Xiang.

You may also be able to catch Bao Bao and her parents playing in the white stuff on the National Zoo's panda cam.

Bao Bao was born at the zoo in August 2013 and went on public display in January 2014. Zoo officials said today was the first time the panda got to go outside and experience the snow.

Wild giant pandas might encounter snow in their natural habitats in China's temperate mountain forests. Only four zoos in the United States have giant pandas. The ones in warmer locales sometimes create artificial snow for their bears. For example, in March 2013, keepers at the San Diego Zoo blew more than 15 tons of shaved ice into the panda enclosure as a treat for the cub Xiao Liwu, then less than a year old.

It's estimated that there are as few as 1,600 pandas left in the wild. Several hundred more live in captivity, most of them in China.

Zoos breed pandas as a way to study and conserve the bears, but the males and females that are paired together don't always mate naturally. Bao Bao was conceived by artificial insemination with sperm from the National Zoo's adult male Tian Tian. Mei Xiang and Tian Tian's only other surviving cub, Tai Shan, was born in 2005 and moved to China in 2010. Bao Bao is scheduled to be moved to China after four years.

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Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
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+.