Panda cub to get his first peek at visitors as US National Zoo reopens

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – A giant panda cub born during the pandemic and so far only seen by the public on a virtual “Panda Cam” will greet visitors in person for the first time on Friday (May 21) as the National Zoo in Washington reopens.

The cub, named Xiao Qi Ji, is the son of Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, who gave birth to him in August at age 22, thrilling zoo officials who thought she had a slim chance of having a fourth healthy cub.

The National Zoo, part of the Smithsonian Institution, will reopen Friday at 20 per cent capacity, admitting 5,000 to 6,000 visitors a day, down from as many as 20,000 pre-pandemic.

The zoo closed in March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic hit and reopened in July before shutting down again in November.

To minimise crowds, the zoo will issue timed-entry passes and have guests use one-way paths, according to its website.

Visitors ages 2 and older must wear a mask.

Pandas were once listed as endangered but are now classified as vulnerable thanks to efforts to restore their habitat. There are an estimated 1,800 giant pandas in the wild.

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