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April 13, 2014

File under BLACK and WHITE, of course

My weekends lately have had a tinge of pandemonium about them.

Not in the Miltonian origins of the term but simply a Webster-like sense of “lots of commotion” or “a wild uproar.”

Charlottesville’s downtown block party—part of a contemporary celebration of Thomas Jefferson’s April 13 birthday called the Tom Tom Founders Festival—drew not only crowds, but large numbers of fire dancers, food trucks, entrepreneurs and musicians this past weekend.

Our fair city’s Saturday morning farmer’s market is in full swing again, drawing shoulder-to-shoulder throngs. This early in the season they come in search of bedding plants, pies, earrings, orchids, olive oil soap, coffee, tacos and friends. (Truth be told, all summer long our market is as much about friends as it is farmers.)


bannerTTFFNight lights


lettuce oliveoil




Next weekend, my daughter and I will be renting a commercial version of a monster truck to drive it over the river and through the woods to her grandmother’s house before said house goes on the market after 51 years in the family. Furniture and memorabilia distribution has a kind of pandemonium about it, too.

living room stuff

All these events offer productivity and social rewards despite their associated tumult. But I have decided my preferred pace involves what I’m calling the pandamonium that occurred when I took a trip through Giant Panda land last weekend at the National Zoo.

I missed most of the local, national and international excitement when little Bao Bao, (meaning “precious”) was born late in August. She made her public debut with zoo visitors in January.

But because Bao Bao only this month began to make her first forays into the outdoor portions of the Giant Panda habitat at her Washington D.C. home, crowds form quickly behind the friendly and well-informed guides on the Asia Trail. All are eager to see the 20-plus-pound toddler and her parents. If you go visiting anytime soon, however, don’t be disappointed if you don’t see Bao Bao. Like a lot of babies, she sleeps a lot, something like 20 hours a day.

Visitors of all ages and stripes are captivated by these furry, big-headed bumbling black and white bears who have become the internationally recognized symbol of endangered species and conservation efforts.

Through the Looking Glass

Mei Xiang: Through the Looking Glass

(Coca-Cola tries hard to make animated polar bears look equally loveable, but somehow in real life the arctic bears present as fearsome creatures, while the live, lumbering pandas still look like something to snuggle.)

The folks at our National Zoological Park (NZP) take panda preservation seriously though—they are among the rarest of our land animals— with as few as 1,600 giant pandas left living in the mountain forests of their native China, and only 300 some living in zoos worldwide.

This gives poignant meaning, in my mind, to the promise of Papa Bear Tian Tian, whose name means “more and more.” A zoologist’s wishful thinking times two. Tian Tian’s and his designated mate’s bi-annual procreational abilities have been likened to birth watches among royalty or celebrity types for the media attention they generate.

(Bao Bao’s mother is called Mei Xiang, a name that supposedly translates as “beautiful fragrance” but given that pandas are, after all, bears, I’m guessing not so much.)

Through educational videos, prolific signage, panda cams, web pages, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, the NZP capitalizes on the craze for all things panda. With the outpouring of public support, the zoo aims to improve poor panda demographics. Bao Bao will be returned to her native China at age four under agreements signed in 2011 as part of the Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement between the Zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association.

The David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat has been enlarged recently, according to the NZP web pages, with an indoor portion that now contains “four exhibit rooms, four dens, increased visitor viewing space, new informational exhibits, additional space for keepers, and a humidified storage building for fresh bamboo, complete with windows for visitors to see just how much bamboo the pandas consume in a day.”

Long lines and crowds being what they are, I was able to see how much bamboo an adult female can consume in something less than 10 minutes.

Other panda stats and facts suggest their “bold coloring provides effective camouflage into their shade-dappled snowy and rocky surroundings” and that their heads are extra large in part to allow for the “large molar teeth and strong jaw muscles” they need for crushing tough bamboo, which makes up 99 percent of their diet in the wild.

“In zoos, giant pandas eat bamboo, sugar cane, rice gruel, a special high-fiber biscuit, carrots, apples, and sweet potatoes,” according to the NZP.

Probably not Panda Popcorn, though.

I didn’t try it either.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. critickat permalink
    April 13, 2014 8:01 pm

    I am so glad you continue to blog. I much enjoyed your panda-post, and notes on the farmer’s market. Hope you are having a wild and wonderful Tom Tom Founder’s Day today. Here in northern Vancouver Island, I have just come in from cutting the grass for the first time this year. Hooray for the true arrival of spring.

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