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'Pandamonium': It's Been A Decade Since Zoo's Panda Cam Went Live


This past weekend, the National Zoo here in Washington, D.C., welcomed its two newest residents when the giant panda, Mei Xiang, had twins. The births were captured on the zoo's panda cam, of course, which first went live 10 years ago. It was set up when a panda cub named Tai Shan was born. Back then, in those old days, MORNING EDITION's Kitty Eisele could not get enough panda. Here's an encore presentation of her ode to panda cam.


KITTY EISELE, BYLINE: OK, I get it now. I understand. I wasn't in the club before, but now I'm up late, and I'm not sleeping, and I'm watching him do everything for the first time. It's the first time he scratched his nose, the first time he stretched his leg, the first time he rolled over. After so much waiting, he's finally arrived, and I can't stop staring. He is a miracle. He's our panda. And like much of my city, I am mesmerized, watching him on my computer on panda cam.

When the first pandas came to America in 1972, they came to Washington, and schoolkids around my city went nuts. We got red Chinese flags and practiced calligraphy with fat, black paintbrushes. We traced our hands on our lunch bags and compared their size to giant panda paws. We did math with an abacus and memorized how much pandas weighed and how much bamboo they ate each day. Then, we went to hot shops and tried to eat our own weight in panda sundaes.

In a city that had lost its baseball team, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing became our all-stars, something we could be proud of when our relatives came to visit. We had the only pandas in the country. But our pandas couldn't make new pandas. And every mating season, they broke our hearts, spring after spring, of pregnancies, miscarriages, stillbirths. At a certain point, you realized it wasn't going to happen. This first couple was allowed to age gracefully, but their star status dimmed. Ling-Ling died while I was away from Washington.

But when Hsing-Hsing went, I was working here at NPR, and I had to write his obituary. This dean of the Chinese diplomatic corps spent his last days snacking on blueberry muffins from Starbucks. In the meantime, lots of other zoos in America were getting pandas, and Washington was left with nothing. Then, China sent us a new couple - Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. They weren't the originals, and we were paying China a lot more money for their company.

But then it happened. Mei Xiang surprised everyone with a tiny bundle the zoo said was the size of a stick of butter. The blogs christened him Butterstick, and I am transfixed watching him on my computer. This sturdy, little cub wriggles and squeaks when Mei Xiang tries to hold him. So she turns him upside down and licks him, and he wriggles again. Then, they roll around and take a nap. It's hypnotic. People at work are hiding their panda cams behind spreadsheets and emails, leaving the sound up so they can hear when something's happening.

There is something unsettling about all this, observing these intimate moments from a cubicle at work. But we already have so much invested in this cub we want to see him make it. And there's a whole new generation of schoolkids in Washington ready for panda sundaes.

INSKEEP: And of course, they'll be ready once again. That's our MORNING EDITION editor Kitty Eisele. And the squeaky, little panda cub Tai Shan, who she reported on years ago, is now all grown up and lives in China. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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