Bye Bye, Butterstick: Tai Shan Goes to China

It’s true: Giant panda Tai Shan is heading back to China. Here’s a photo slide show and a look back at his greatest moments.

By: Emily Leaman

>> Click here for the Tai Shan slide show 

Qiang Qiang, Hua Sheng, Butterstick—Tai Shan by any other name is still the adorable giant panda that Washington has grown to love. But now it seems our time with the furball is finally coming to an end: The zoo announced this morning that Tai Shan will soon return to China.

To be fair, it’s not like we didn’t see this coming. Per previous agreements with the Chinese government, Tai Shan was supposed to return after his second birthday, but the zoo secured a few extensions to keep him here longer. The latest extension expires next month, and the zoo announced this morning that the four-year-old panda will go home.

We know, you’re disappointed—so are we. That’s why we’ve put together a timeline to relive our favorite panda’s most memorable moments in Washington. And just for kicks, we’ve created a slide show of the rolly-polliest panda ever caught on film.

• July 9, 2005—our little bundle of joy was born at 3:41 AM; he was the size of a stick of butter. At his first checkup on August 2, it was determined that he was a boy; he weighed 1.82 pounds and was 12 inches long.

• In August, the zoo launched a naming contest, where visitors could vote on one of five names for the little guy. Contenders included Hua Sheng, which means “China Washington”; Qiang Qiang, which means “strong, powerful”; Sheng Hua, which means “Washington China”; Long Shan, which means “dragon mountain”; and, of course, Tai Shan, which means “peaceful mountain.” Bloggers jumped on the name game and rallied around a sixth choice, Butterstick. Despite their efforts, the name didn’t . . . er, stick. “Tai Shan” was selected in a contest that received more than 200,000 votes. The name was given to him on October 17, when the cub was 100 days old.

Tai Shan sneezes! And the video goes viral.

• Although online visitors could see Tai Shan since birth, thanks to the zoo’s wildly popular giant-panda Web cam, it wasn’t until December 8 that he made his official public debut. Free, timed-entry tickets were handed out for ten-minute viewings in the Panda House. The zoo said 13,000 tickets were distributed for visitors between December 8 and January 2.

• January 30, 2006—the day the zoo reported that Tai Shan climbed a tree for the first time. The following months saw a few other firsts, too: He played in the snow for the first time on February 12, began eating bamboo on March 27, and took a first swim in the Panda House pool on June 1. Awww . . .

• The zoo pulled out all the stops for Tai Shan’s first birthday. The July 9 celebration included traditional Chinese dancers and music, talks by panda keepers and scientists, refreshments, and more. Of course, Tai Shan celebrated, too: The zoo rolled out a custom-made frozen treat made of bamboo leaves, carrots, pears, beets, apples, and apple juice. He weighed 56 pounds on his first birthday.

• Tai Shan’s fans were thrilled on April 24, 2007, when the zoo announced that the cub would stay in Washington for an additional two years past his second birthday in July.

• The panda spent his third and fourth birthdays with more fruitcicles. The latest was shaped like a three-tiered cake. Tai Shan lovers from around the world logged on to the zoo’s Web site and filled a page with birthday wishes.

Have a favorite Tai Shan memory to share? Leave it in the comments!

>> For more photos of cute, cuddly zoo babies, go here. 

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