Panda cub to get his first peek at visitors as U.S. National Zoo reopens

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WASHINGTON, May 20 (Reuters) - A giant panda cub born during the pandemic and so far only seen by the public on a virtual “Panda Cam” will greet visitors in person for the first time on Friday as the National Zoo in Washington reopens.

The cub, named Xiao Qi Ji, is the son of Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, who gave birth to him in August at age 22, thrilling zoo officials who thought she had a slim chance of having a fourth healthy cub.

The National Zoo, part of the Smithsonian Institution, will reopen Friday at 20% capacity, admitting 5,000 to 6,000 visitors a day, down from as many as 20,000 pre-pandemic.

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Panda cub Xiao Qi Ji climbs a tree at the National Zoo in Washington, May 20, 2021. REUTERS/Reuters TV

The zoo closed in March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic hit and reopened in July before shutting down again in November.

To minimize crowds, the zoo will issue timed-entry passes and have guests use one-way paths, according to its website. Visitors ages 2 and older must wear a mask.

Pandas were once listed as endangered but are now classified as vulnerable thanks to efforts to restore their habitat. There are an estimated 1,800 giant pandas in the wild.

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Reporting by Gershon Peaks; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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