Some creatures are just obscenely cute. They can give the unwary a heart attack at a hundred paces. Such is the case with Tai Shan, the four-month-old baby panda unveiled for public observation for the first time yesterday here in Washington, D.C.
Reputedly, it costs ten million dollars a year to host their parents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian at the National Zoo. Tai Shan’s parents arrived in 2000 for a ten-year visit. For years, we panda obsessed Washingtonians have waited in vain for a little cub. We knew not to get our hopes up. Our last pair of panda, Ling Ling and Sing Sing, often disappointed. That Ling Ling got pregnant at all was due to extreme artificial insemination. However, none of her six pregnancies succeeded in producing a healthy cub. It seems Sing Sing just was not interested in sex. In addition, Ling Ling was a hopeless klutz in mothering business. Yet hope springs eternal. If the Red Sox can win the World Series, surely we Washingtonians could someday enjoy a baby panda. After five years, this new set of pandas at last delivered the goods: one incredibly adorable, precocious, innocent and utterly harmless baby cub. Washington’s panda fever, always near a critical level, burst into full Scarlet Fever.
Until yesterday, most panda fanatics had to contend themselves with newspaper images of Tai Shan. Those who needed more, like my wife, spent hours each evening watching his every move on the Animal Planet Panda Cam. The pictures streamed across the internet were grainy (and for some bizarre reason, only available in black and white). There seemed to be no action on the Panda Cam by little Tia Shan that would not elicit oohs, ahs and sighs from my beloved.
If you are wondering if you can still grab a ten minute observation ticket to view little Butterstick (as many call him, since he was the size of a stick of butter when he was born), it’s too late. It took about two hours for the National Zoo to release all of its 13,000 baby panda viewing tickets. While the tickets were free, a few entrepreneurs managed to make some quick bucks by auctioning off their tickets on eBay. One female poster on Craigslist a few days ago promised sexual delights in exchange for a ticket to view the panda cub. This took prostitution to a new and hitherto unknown level. (I have no idea whether she succeeded. The ad is no longer there.)
Tia Shan is not likely to go anywhere for years, but he is likely to keep growing. In three years when he has reached his full size, he will be just another cute panda. Adult pandas are fun to look at too, but baby pandas are exponentially more fun. So now is the time when serious panda fanatics (about half of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area) must view Tia Shan while he is still small and squeaky. After all, what other animal has such big eyes, or at least gives the appearance of having big eyes by having their eyes surrounded by so much black fur? If his small size were not enough, he is just learning to amble. Every step elicits maternal or paternal feelings. Moreover, when he talks he sounds like a chipmunk.
If it were just baby pandas around my house then perhaps the cuteness would be endurable. Lately though it has been all baby animals all the time. My wife spends much of her free time hanging out on the Live Journal community called Baaaaaby Animals. Looking at baby animals on the Internet has become something of an obsession for her. If I did not live with her, I would think the rest of her life must really suck. However, once you have the baaaaaby animal addiction, it seems there is no way to stop it. Most evenings I hear her cooing or sighing over the latest pictures that users have posted of their childish critters. Currently she is fixated on baaaaaby bunnies. The species does not really matter to her. I have heard her coo over baby rhinoceros. “Baby anything is cute,” she tells me, as she quickly scrolls down to the next picture.
It makes me wonder if maybe we should have had a second child. Perhaps a couple more years changing poopy diapers and dealing with childhood temper tantrums would have killed this new maternal craving. Alas, it is physically impossible for her to reproduce at this point. So perhaps those maternal feelings must be expressed through the endless stream of pet pictures on Baaaaaby Animals.
Yes, it is an addiction but a benign one as these things go. Fortunately, so far it has not translated into our house becoming a petting zoo. We are down to one adorable and extremely snuggly nineteen-year-old cat, plus a Betta named Fred the Ferocious Fish, who observes me with a perpetual frown from across the room. While none of us can bear the thought of our cat dying, my wife already has plans for our post cat era. The next pet she has decided will be a baaaaaby bunny.
I just hope they come litter trained.