For 16 days Mei Xiang had her baby cub all to herself without the prying eyes of the world upon them, thanks to the U.S. government shutdown. The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. was forced to close its gates and turn off its popular panda cams, which allow fans worldwide to watch them online.
Now that the shutdown has ended, so has the pandas’ short-lived privacy. They may be the only ones not happy about government workers being back on the job.
“The panda cam is back ON!” the zoo’s Twitter account enthusiastically announced on Thursday. Baby animal lovers and fans of all things adorable rejoiced. “Yay! Welcome back cuteness,” and “Panda cam is back on and all is right with the world,” were some of the responses on Twitter.
More joy was shared on the zoo’s Facebook page which features new photos and video of the fuzzy, and still unnamed, cub. “Can’t believe how big she’s gotten in such a short time. The world is a much better place with panda cam back in operation!” one fan wrote.
The cub was busy putting on weight and passing developmental milestones during the shutdown. She gained more than two pounds and partially opened her eyes for the first time since her birth on Aug. 23.
Cameras privately funded
She can also now push herself up on her front two legs and turn herself over if she’s lying on her back. Her ears are also now fully open and the cub is reacting to noises. The mother, Mei, is also doing well, leaving the cub for longer periods and interacting with the zoo keepers who were kept on the job.
The panda cams are privately funded by Ford Motor Company but are operated by zoo staff and the video feeds were deemed non-essential during the shutdown.
Within minutes of the cameras flickering back to life on Thursday the website was swamped with eager fans wanting to get a glimpse of the cub they had so missed. There are 850 connections allowed per camera, and they were all maxed out. The zoo warned viewers that they might have difficulty connecting due to their popularity.
The zoo's gates reopened on Friday to cheers from a waiting crowd. Admission is always free, the zoo depends on merchandise and concession sales for revenue, so the shutdown took a toll. It's offering discounts on food and free carousel rides for the next few days to encourage people to come visit now that it's back open for business.
But for now the internet is the only place to see the baby panda. She will not make her public debut for several more weeks.