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National Zoo celebrating panda cub's first birthday

WASHINGTON -- The National Zoo in Washington is throwing a panda party.

Saturday marks the first birthday of panda cub Bao Bao, and she'll get a cake made from frozen fruit juice and other treats like pears and apples to celebrate. The cub is only the second panda born at the zoo to survive to her first birthday.

Bao Bao's only sibling, brother Tai Shan, was born in 2005 and returned to China in 2010. Panda keeper Nicole MacCorkle says Bao Bao has been a different baby from her brother, including a little more stand-offish with keepers.

In the past year she has grown from a wriggling pink newborn a little bigger than a stick of butter to a 20-kilogram black-and-white bundle whose favorite activity is sleeping in a tree. A hemlock tree in the front of her yard is one favorite, and she also likes wrestling with a blue cylinder-shaped buoy filled with sand, MacCorkle said. The cub, whose name means “precious” or “treasure,” has also started eating solid food like sweet potato and bamboo and recently got her first taste of honey.

She's also learned behaviors that help keepers monitor her health including getting on a scale and standing up when asked. Lately, she's “getting really good” and responding when her name is called, MacCorkle said, and is exploring her yard a little more.

“She's really becoming an independent bear,” MacCorkle said.

The next year will bring even more changes. Bao Bao will stop drinking her mother's milk and, like wild pandas of the same age, at between a year and a half and two years old she'll start living independently in her own enclosure. Eventually keepers will also teach her to present her paw to get blood drawn and lie down in order to get an ultrasound.

The National Zoo is one of only four zoos nationwide to have pandas, which are on loan from China. The zoo's first pair of pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, were a gift from China following President Richard Nixon's historic 1972 visit to the country. The pair had five cubs while living at the zoo but none survived.

The zoo's current pandas, Bao Bao's mother and father, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, arrived in 2000.

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Panda cub Bao Bao looks at her birthday cake at the National Zoo in Washington, Saturday, Aug. 23. (AP)

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