October 18, 2013

Viewers overwhelm National Zoo panda cam

The live feed of Mei Xiang and her cub was eagerly awaited during the government shutdown.

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The pictures flickered briefly at 9:59 a.m, the images showing two furry black-and-white blobs snoozing, as usual. Four minutes later, the tantalizing feeds from the giant pandas' compound at the National Zoo stopped.

click image to enlarge

A photo provided by the Smithsonian’s National Zoo shows Mei Xiang’s giant panda cub undergoing an exam on Oct. 11.

The Associated Press

For about 30 minutes Thursday, the two panda cams were dark. Communications glitch, the zoo said.

Anguished moments ticked by as hundreds of people waited.

Then, at 10:36, the video resumed, showing the zoo's celebrated and unnamed 8-week-old cub in fine fettle — fat and round, and looking like a gift-shop souvenir.

Of all resumptions Thursday in rebooted Washington, that of the panda cams — which show a live feed of Mei Xiang and her cub — was perhaps the most eagerly awaited.

Within 10 minutes, the cameras were maxed out by the panda-starved masses, the zoo said, and connections were being intermittently rejected.

From then on, repetitive mouse-clicking was required to grab one of the 850 viewing slots each camera can handle at a time, and then only for 15 minutes of oohing and aahing.

The zoo said there were 100 people on its website's panda-cam page at 7 a.m., waiting for the feeds to resume, and 400 waiting shortly after 9.

Later in the day, the zoo tweeted that because of the crush, "viewers may experience some difficulty streaming the cams."

The female cub, who was born Aug. 23, had last been seen on camera as the zoo went into hibernation, along with rest of federal Washington, two weeks ago.

Just over a month old, she then resembled a large rodent, weighing about three pounds and having faint black-and-white markings.

On Thursday, the cameras and a series of color photos and video, released by the zoo, showed a robust five-pound cub — a miniature copy of her mother — with her eyes and ears open, the zoo said, and what looks like a perpetual grin on her face.

In a video of a medical exam, she also squawks loudly.

But the cub cannot yet walk, although she can push herself across the floor of her den.

The zoo said the cub is strong enough to push herself up on her front two legs and can roll over if she is on her back, but she won't be able to walk until she is about four months old.

Meanwhile, Mei Xiang has been leaving her cub for longer periods at a time to eat and drink as well as interact with keepers.

Outside the zoo, the government may have been closed, but, inside, life went on.

"Some animals do change dramatically," zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said.

"When I think back to the panda cub, who was so tiny and pink, with just a minimal amount of hair" two weeks ago, she said. "And look at her today. Her eyes are open. She's so healthy and beautiful."

"It's remarkable," she added. "She's a perfect example of life continuing, and its precious and we have to care for it."

The cub will not make its public debut for several more weeks, but the zoo reopens at 10 a.m. Friday.

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