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National Zoo Panda Cub Named Xiao Qi Ji. Translated: Little Miracle

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some more important election news now. After a public vote, a giant panda cub at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., now has a name. Here's Mikaela Lefrak from our member station WAMU.

MIKAELA LEFRAK, BYLINE: The pandemic hasn't been able to keep the public away from the National Zoo's giant pandas. The two parents and their tiny, fluffy panda cub are Internet gold. When the cub was born in August, viewership on the zoo's panda cam shot up a thousand percent. Brandie Smith is the zoo's deputy director.

BRANDIE SMITH: So many people were trying to view the birth of this panda cub that our servers shut down because it thought it was under attack.

LEFRAK: More than 1.5 million people have tuned in since. The cub was the size of a stick of butter at birth, and he looked and sounded kind of like an alien.

(SOUNDBITE OF PANDA VOCALIZING)

LEFRAK: He's gotten much cuter since. Smith says around 135,000 people voted on his name, which is...

SMITH: Xiao Qi Ji, which means little miracle in Mandarin.

LEFRAK: The name is particularly fitting when you consider the circumstances around the birth. The cub's mother is 22 years old. She's the oldest giant panda in the U.S. to ever give birth.

SMITH: She became pregnant during the pandemic. She had the cub during the pandemic. Add to that she had less than 1% chance of giving birth this year. So every time we call this cub's name, we're going to be reminded of what a true little miracle he was.

LEFRAK: The zoo released a video celebrating the naming yesterday. In it, China's ambassador to the U.S. called the cub our little ambassador.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

CUI TIANKAI: We are connected again in the growth of our little ambassador and in our shared joy and friendship.

LEFRAK: It'll be a while before the cub's adoring public can see him face to face. The zoo and all Smithsonian museums in Washington are closed as of this week, with no reopening date in sight. D.C.'s mayor, Muriel Bowser, announced further restrictions on mass gatherings and travel yesterday. So for now, it's back to the panda cam and watching the cub grow up on screen. For NPR News in Washington, I'm Mikaela Lefrak.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLD PANDA'S "I AM REAL PUNK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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