Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Joy of Pandas!

by Sandra Parshall

While I'm going a little crazy here trying to meet a book deadline AND keep up with the panda news from the Smithsonian National Zoo, I'm begging off writing a fresh blog this week and reprising one I wrote way back in early 2007, when my beloved Tai Shan was still a cub in the care of his devoted mom, Mei Xiang. As you have no doubt heard, Tai is all grown up now and living in China, where he may become a father soon. And Mama Mei has just had the most eventful weekend of her life, encompassing jubilation, panic, sorrow, and, finally, enormous happiness in the shape of a robustly healthy little sibling for Tai. 

The one and only Tai Shan
And now, a stroll down Memory Lane, aka The Asia Trail at the National Zoo: 
I am hopelessly in love with a short, hairy guy who chews with his mouth open, still lives with his mother, and doesn’t know I exist. Oh, he’s glanced my way a couple of times when I’ve been -- yes, I admit it -- stalking him. But I’m just another face in the crowd. I share him with millions of other women and more than a few men.

Tai Shan, the giant panda cub at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, has been my favorite diversion since his birth on July 9, 2005. Between personal visits -- fortunately, I live near him -- he’s never more than a few mouse clicks away, and I visit him via the internet when I’m feeling frustrated, sad, or cranky. A scene isn’t coming together the way I envisioned it? Let’s see what Tai is up to on the zoo’s live panda cam. I’m a little queasy after writing a bloody murder scene or watching the latest bloody scenes from Iraq? Tai’s innocence and utter ignorance of human cruelty take me to a better place. His very name, Chinese for “peaceful mountain”, promises an oasis in a violent world.

Mei Xiang, mother of Tai Shan and his new little sibling

It’s not that I lack furry Significant Others at home. Our cats, Emma and Gabriel, are more than happy to distract me from writing. They often insist on it. I didn’t need another animal in my life, yet I fell hard for Tai when he was a bald, squawking thing no bigger than a stick of butter. Now he’s 100 pounds of pure charm and I am addicted beyond recovery. I need to see him every day.

I also make daily visits to the web forum of Pandas Unlimited, a haven where pandamaniacs can indulge our passion without having our sanity questioned. Four U.S. zoos have pandas, and three of those -- Washington, San Diego, and Atlanta -- currently have cubs. PU members know all the U.S. pandas’ genealogies, personalities, quirks, weights, and favorite treats. We watch them on the cams, worry about them and delight in them, visit them in person and share our pictures.

Zoo Atlanta's twin boys (aka "The Twinkies"), now six weeks old

But Pandas Unlimited is more than a bunch of people who ooh and aah over the antics of cute critters. We put our money where our hearts are -- collectively, PU members have donated thousands of dollars to the panda programs at U.S. zoos and to organizations like Pandas International and World Wildlife Fund, which work to protect this critically endangered species and its wild habitat. PU is a diverse group of people united by a common love.

These days, I'm checking on this little charmer, Mei Xiang's new cub, born Friday, August 23:

I’ll leave the floor open to anyone who wants to share a favorite source of non-human comfort and spiritual renewal in this harsh, unforgiving world.

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