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A Day at the National Zoo
New cheetah and panda cubs in the nation's capital help preserve endangered species.
By Blake Murphy and Danny Murphy, Scholastic Kids Press Corps

panda pair
A panda pair plays in the yard a the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
(Photo: Jessie Cohen/Smithsonian's National Zoo )
For the first time in 115 years, cheetah cubs were born at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Tumai, a female cheetah, gave birth to four cubs on November 23, 2004. Later, on April 14, 2005, another mother cheetah, Zazi, gave birth to a second set of cubs. The cubs are expected to grow to about 100 pounds and run as fast as 60 miles per hour.

Craig Saffae, an animal keeper at the National Zoo, explained that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has placed cheetahs on the endangered species list. Lions and other wild cats, hunters, and disease all account for the low number of cheetahs in the wild.

To protect the cheetahs, Saffae discussed the importance of education and breeding. Many farmers in Africa assumed that cheetahs were killing their livestock, but through education, these farmers now understand that lions and other wild animals also contribute to their losses.

Panda births have also caused some excitement at the National Zoo this year. Mei Xiang delivered a panda cub on July 9, 2005. Both the mother panda Mei Xiang, and the father panda Tian Tian, were born in China. They came to live in Washington, D.C., on December 6, 2000.

at the cheetah exhibit
Scholastic Reporters Blake Murphy and Danny Murphy pose by the cheetah exhibit at the National Zoo with animal keeper Craig Saffae.
(Photo: Courtesy Blake and Danny Murphy)
For the next several months, Mei Xiang will be spending some quality time with her son indoors, away from the eyes of visitors. For now, Tian Tian will have the outdoor exhibit to himself where he will dine alone on bamboo branches, while zoo visitors watch in fascination.

Only about 1,600 pandas are left in the wild. Pandas are endangered because of a loss of habitat and poaching. John Gibbons, the Public Affairs Specialist at the National Zoo, explained that pandas are found in only one habitat—the bamboo forests in the mountains of China. Unfortunately, these forests are shrinking as more roads and cities are built. Another reason pandas are endangered is illegal hunting or poaching. Some people use pandas for furs or as exotic pets.

Kids can help protect and preserve animals on the endangered species list, said Saffoe and Gibbons. Kids can learn about the different animals by reading about them in books or on the Internet. They can tell their friends and family what they learned about the animals and write letters to government officials or contact organizations that protect these animals. Finally, kids can volunteer their time at zoos or veterinarian offices, and maybe even someday become a veterinarian or zookeeper themselves!