Saturday morning Rudi and I awoke early and headed up to the National Zoo to wait in a line.
A line to see a bear.
A cute, cuddly baby bear…
That’s right — it’s Butterstick time!
I had managed to score six tickets to see Butterstick when they were made available to the public. So Rudi and I invited our friends Phillip (who may qualify for membership in Butterstick’s fan club), Kathy, and Pat and Heidi and their son Jack(who is little enough not to require a ticket) to join us. We met at the zoo’s entrance half an hour before our timed entry and then moseyed together toward the panda enclosure.
Jack is just 16 months old, and Heidi and Pat had been showing him the panda cam for a week or so to get him interested in what we were about to see. But because Jack is so young, he doesn’t really seem to differentiate between real and pretend pandas, so our journey took a little longer as he toddled from one panda image to another, periodically falling over. Let me tell you, there are a lot of panda images at the zoo — banners, photos, stuffed animals, pins . . .
As we approached the entrance, the zoo keeper came out to warn us that Butterstick had headed back into his den and that we might not be able to see him. That would have been disappointing, but we had been adequately warned this was possible, so no one was shocked.
But then the keepers decided to make us very happy by going in and bringing Butterstick out to meet his adoring public. They carried him out to see us and then played with him to keep him out in plain sight.
I’m not quite sure what Jack thought at this point, whether he just wanted to see what was in front of all the legs or if he knew there was a panda there or if he somehow sensed there was another baby around, but all of a sudden he toddled in front of the whole crowd and threw himself down next to the bars to watch. Heidi crawled in after him to make sure he was okay, but I definitely thought that moment was almost as cute as Butterstick himself.
Should you ever get the opportunity to be invited in to play with a baby panda, I’d like to offer the following advice: wear thick jeans and work boots. Because a baby panda likes to play in much the same way a two-year-old likes to play. It’s very physical. The keepers were running around the enclosure and Butterstick was gamboling after them, falling over from time to time as his legs refused to obey his commands. But when he fell over the keepers would wander over to him and then he’d latch his paws around their ankles and as the keepers dragged him around behind them.
Finally, a keeper climbed up on the rocks and Butterstick followed, but by then our time was pretty much up.
Butterstick really is adorable. I look forward to watching him frolic during future visits.
(P.S.: If you enjoyed my rather fuzzy photos, you should definitely check out Rudi’s sharper images, available here.)