America's newest panda citizen made her public debut at the San Diego zoo today. Hua Mei and her mom attracted unbelievable crowds of humans.
CBS News Correspondent Manuel Gallegus reports that by ten o'clock Friday morning over two thousand visitors had poured into the San Diego zoo. The great majority of them came to see Hua Mei, the 6-month old baby panda.
They saw her, but just barely. In a display of typical panda behavior, Hua Mei and her 220-pound mother Bai Yun slept lazily in the trees, apparently unaware or just not interested, in all the people quietly passing by them, snapping pictures and craning their necks for a glimpse.
Hua Mei was conceived through artificial insemination. She is the first giant panda born in the Western Hemisphere since 1990, and the first in the United States to survive past four days. At birth she weighed a quarter pound. Now she's 22 pounds. She'll nurse for another year and eventually switch over to eating bamboo.
Since being born on August 21, 1999, Hua Mei has become one of America's most beloved baby girls. Millions of people from around the world have been logging on to the San Diego Zoo's Web site to get a look at her via the Panda Cam.
Panda fans have been able to watch Hua Mei's progress -- from a squirmy, pink little thing that looked more like a rat than a panda, to a cuddly black and white bear -- literally minute by minute.
In the creature's first two months alone, there were more than 77 million hits on the Web site, with visitors from San Diego to New Zealand.
Pandas are endangered animals. About 1000 exist in the wild exclusively in the mountain forest of China. For decades the majority of panda cubs born in captivity didn't survive. But Hua Mei is very healthy according to her caretakers, and researchers at the zoo credit her mother. Veterinarian Meg Sutherland-Smith says Bai Yun is the perfect panda parent. Both she and Hua Mei's father Shi Shi are on a 12-year research loan from China.
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