Giant panda TianTian enjoys birthday cake during a celebration for its 20th birthday at Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington D.C., the United States, Aug. 27, 2017. The zoo held a celebration on Sunday for giant pandaTian Tian's 20th birthday. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)
by Sun Ding, Hu Yousong, Guo Yina
WASHINGTON, Aug. 27 (Xinhua) -- Several days after giant panda Bei Bei celebrated his 2nd birthday here at Smithsonian's National Zoo, his father Tian Tian turned 20 years old on Sunday, a senior biological age for a giant panda, but he somehow managed to have kept his childhood alive.
It was a routine of the National Zoo to prepare a cake for a giant panda's birthday. Though it intended to keep it a low profile, many giant panda fans, tourists and other visitors waited at Tian Tian's yard before the Giant Panda Exhibit opened at 8 a.m. local time (1200 GMT).
Jim, a Washington D.C. local and the first visitor to the exhibit on Sunday, told Xinhua that he has been following the growth of giant pandas inside the National Zoo since he retired in 2005 and he came on every birthday of them.
"It's Tian Tian's 20th birthday. It's a big occasion for him. That's why I am here," Jim said.
Born in 1997 in southwest China's Sichuan Province, Tian Tian, whose name means "More and More" in Chinese, is one of three giant pandas that now live in the National Zoo.
Tian Tian and female giant panda Mei Xiang made a buzz when arriving here in early 2001. Ever since then, the pair has given birth to three cubs named Tai Shan, Bao Bao, and Bei Bei that have lived for more than a few days.
Two-year-old male giant panda Bei Bei is now the only offspring in the zoo after Bei Bei's brother, Tai Shan, and his sister, Bao Bao, moved to China, respectively in 2010 and early 2017, as per an agreement between the United States and China.
Many giant panda fans said mischievous, adorable and strong-growing Bei Bei is a lot like his father.
Zoo employee Larry Howard said Tian Tian, also a good eater, is "reckless sometimes, energetic, curious and inspiring," adding that the father and son look similar in both physical and personal aspects.
Recalling the first time seeing Tian Tian, Angela D. Wessel, who has served as a volunteer for 40 years at the zoo, said, "Tian Tian was more playful then because he was young."
"But Tian Tian is still the roly-poly that likes to roll down the hill and play in the snow, the panda that he has always been, even at the age of twenty," Wessel said, "He is a lovable panda."
The birthday cake for Tian Tian is more of a big Popsicle that would help him dispel a late-summer heat. Curator Brian Cannon said that the 40-pound frozen cake is made of mostly apple juice and water, decorated with specially-shaped pears, bananas, carrots, sweet potatoes, among others, with a round-shaped ice disk painted with a "20" standing vertical on a colorful, multi-layered cake base.
Curators also brushed some honey onto the cake to make it more appealing to Tian Tian who did not wait for his audience to sing a birthday song for him later but went ahead for the frozen cake with both his mouth and paws.
He went even further by straightforwardly tearing the ice disk from the base for his own convenience, a naughty move that sent all into joyful laughter.
It seemed that Tian Tian is not the only one who has kept his childhood alive. Jeremy Miller, who fell in love with giant pandas since childhood, told Xinhua that seeing Tian Tian reminded him of his first giant panda visit when he was 13 years old and was brought by his grandmother to exactly the same zoo.
"We stood here to be captivated and amazed and watched them," Miller said, "My grandmother said it was time to go and I said 'no, I want to see panda more'."
Giant pandas are beautiful, mysterious, unique and gentle bamboo eaters who are aesthetically pleasing, he described. "They just have an appeal that I cannot put into words, just fun to watch."
Miller, who brought his daughter with him to see Tian Tian's 20th birthday, said he hoped his love for giant pandas could pass on to younger family members.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the average lifespan of giant pandas is only 30 years in captivity and 14 to 20 years in the wild, under which Tian Tian could be categorized as a senior-aged giant panda. The world's oldest panda is 37 years old as of now.
Good news is that Tian Tian is in both good spirit and condition. "He has got his treatments and medical examinations. Just by looking at him, you can tell he is (in) good health," Howard said.
"Tian Tian's celebrating his 20th birthday is great. It means that we're doing our job. Keep them alive as a species," Wessel stressed.
"Those giant pandas at the zoo stand for U.S.-China friendship and scientific effort to preserve them. They are big part of scientific effort on both sides," he said.