Panda cub Bao Bao plays during a traditional "Zhuazhou" ceremony at her first birthday celebration at the National Zoo in Washington D.C., Aug. 23, 2014. Some 20,000 visitors are expected to attend the celebration for the first birthday party of the female giant panda cub. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)
Panda cub Bao Bao, who turned one Saturday, took a morning walk in her yard in the National Zoo here, kicking off a much-anticipated party to celebrate her first birthday.
During a traditional Chinese "Zhuazhou" ceremony, Bao Bao first chose a poster symbolizing longevity, then the one representing good health, before playing with the last one foretelling that she would have "many cubs".
"Bao Bao chose long life and good health, which lay a good foundation for being fertile," said Cui Tiankai, Chinese Ambassador to the United States, interpreting Bao Bao's choice.
Under the spotlight of a huge crowd, Bao Bao later enjoyed a special 40-pound birthday cake made by the zoo's nutrition department. With a large number "1" on top, the tiered cake is made of frozen dilute apple juice and decorated with flower appliques carved from carrots and sweet potatoes.
Nicole MacCorkle, an animal keeper of the zoo, described Bao Bao as an "independent little bear."
"Ever since she was very young, she's been doing her own thing and she sometimes comes when her mother calls her but not always," MacCorkle told Xinhua. "She just quietly observes the world from her hemlock tree most of the time."
Weighing 20 kilograms, Bao Bao is starting to eat more solid foods, said MacCorkle, who expected the cub to become more independent and grow more quickly in the weeks and months to come.
To mark the occasion, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted "Happy Birthday, Bao Bao!" on Saturday and shared a video showing highlights of Bao Bao's first year.
U.S. State Department also sent its birthday wishes to Bao Bao on Twitter, calling her "an adorable symbol" of U.S.-China cooperation.
Saturday's rainy weather did not deter thousands of Panda lovers, many with their young family members, flocking to the National Zoo to take a look at their furry friend and send heartfelt birthday wishes.
Retired master sergeant Barbara Barron, who came to the zoo at 5 a.m., was the first one in line to wait for the birthday party.
"I'm really excited and I'm a panda maniac," Barron said, wearing a commemorative panda birthday hat. "I wish her a long, prosperous life."
"She is adorable and I wish I could hold her for a second, but I know that's not possible," she told Xinhua with a big smile.
Born one year ago with a weight of only about 130 grams, Bao Bao did not open her eyes until nearly two months later and spent another month learning to take her first steps.
"It's a very dangerous time when she was born. She had a twin that was born but did not survive. Pandas are still very difficult to breed," said Dennis Kelly, director of the National Zoo.
Kelly said staff of the zoo have been collaborating with their colleagues in Wolong National Nature Reserve in China's Sichuan province to keep the panda cub healthy.
The two sides are also cooperating on researches on panda with a focus on the diseases that could affect the health of the precious animal, Kelly said.
"We would like China's national treasure to thrive in China. That's why we are doing the research," he added.
The National Zoo now houses Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, a pair of giant pandas on loan from China that came to the United States in 2000. In 2005, Mei Xiang gave birth to her first cub Tai Shan, which now lives in China. She also gave birth to another female cub in 2012, which died a week later due to liver failure caused by lung problems.
Currently, there are 15 giant pandas living in four cities across the United States under the Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement between China and the United States.