ABC News’ Claire Shipman reports:
Bao Bao the Panda is probably the most celebrated and guarded furry creature in the world right now.
“Good Morning America” went on an exclusive visit to her inner sanctum at The Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s in Washington, D.C., and watched as she stretched and toddled curiously around. The cute factor was high.
We watched as Bao Bao went through the early days of her training program. Her trainer used sticks with balls on the end and sweet potatoes to teach her basic skills, and praised her when she got it right.
“Good job! Good girl, good job,” said Juan Rodriguez, one of the zoo’s trainers.
Sometimes she just wanted to do her own thing–such as play with everything all at once.
But her training isn’t all about play or learning tricks. The trainers are starting early to teach important skills, and that that’s why we were invited in.
Her father, Tien Tien, shows us one of the many things Bao Bao will soon master: before he’s even prompted, he offers up his arm through a slot in his cage. Marty Dearie, one of the pandas’ trainers, says it’s hugely helpful for doctors.
“He’s grabbing this metal bar … the vets can actually come and take blood right out of his arm when he’s awake and he’ll allow that,” he said.
For his cooperation, Tien Tien knows that he’ll be rewarded with delicious honey water.
Tien Tien will also scooch over and lie down on command, two skills that Bao Bao will soon learn and that are helpful for keeping these rare and endangered creatures – there are only roughly 300 giant pandas living in captivity – healthy, comfortable, and capable of making more babies.
Female pandas are fertile only two days per year, making the birth of baby pandas like Bao Bao very rare. When Bao Bao goes to live in China at age four, her primary mission will be to have babies.
The training also helps the bears become comfortable with human contact. Like her parents, Bao Bao will spend her life among specialists, and when she’s 4 years old, she’ll go to live on a Panda preserve in China.
In the meantime, her trainers make an effort to keep interactions strictly limited to only what is necessary.
Given how cute Bao Bao is, her trainer says staying away is not that easy.
The zoo enlisted the help of the public last year to pick the name for the adorable panda cub who was born in August. Approximately 123,000 online votes were cast with the name Bao Bao winning out over names including Ling Hua, Long Yun, Mulan and Zhen Bao.
If you can’t get enough of Bao Bao, check out the zoo’s Giant Panda Cam.
Bao Bao’s first year is featured in Smithsonianchannel.com new monthly web series, “Wild Inside the National Zoo.”