WASHINGTON — Bye bye, Bei Bei. Hello, Naked Mole Rat.
As you read this, the Giant Panda that has monopolized Smithsonian National Zoo-goers' time for most of four years -- not to mention untold millions watching PandaCam on company time -- is in the middle of being FedEx’ed to China to make more Bei Beis.
In point of fact, Dr. Brandy Smith, the deputy director of the National Zoo, confirmed the reason for Bei Bei's departure.
"He goes back to China so he can be with other pandas," Smith said. "He can be a parent. He can have his own cubs. And the other good thing is, if he's making babies he's helping save an endangered species."
Being the sensitive sort of news organization that doesn’t, uh, pander to lowest-common-denominator-type content, we had to ask:
"So Bei Bei is only going back to China to have sex?"
"He is," confirmed Smith, a very good sport. "That's how you make more Pandas. That's what gotta happen."
[Cue Panda porn music or Barry White or whatever they listen to in captivity these days.]
Look, this entire Bye Bye Bei Bei week-long celebration was a nice deal and all, a promotional boon for the good people at the National Zoo. I mean, what other cuddlebug-cute species can have their goodbye party sponsored by FedEx and Air BnB?
But, I’m starting to lean on the side of a certain news editor I work with when he says, matter-of-factly, "If you don’t want to reach for your own food anymore and you’re not [having sex to procreate], time’s up. Darwin says you’re done."
He added that the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on artificial insemination, transportation and other assorted costs that involves just, oh, ensuring the survival of a species, could be used on saving animals who do actually still reach for their food and don't wait for their bamboo shoots to be hand-delivered by zoo interns.
This survival-of-the-fittest zealot doesn’t just think Bei Bei should go bye bye; if critters like him can't work a little harder to survive themselves, he is saying arrivederci to all of them!
I couldn't even bring myself to tell Brandy Smith that, because...
a) She has worked long and hard to ensure the survival of these photogenic furballs -- basically black-and-white teddy bears come to life. "It's been an honor," she said. "It's been the privilege of my life to have this opportunity."
b) The delicate and often uneasy Chinese-U.S. diplomatic situation is genuinely helped and bettered by this exchange program. "We have developed incredible relationships with our colleagues in China," Smith said. "Just amazing people, working together, to save an endangered species."
c) The woman could snap her fingers and have a komodo dragon devour the entire news desk in seconds.
And, finally, d) Bei Bei could be the chosen one; he does need to get busy for his kind to survive.
"Pandas have gone from being endangered to vulnerable, which means all of the things we're doing here are making a difference," Smith said. "But there are still only 1,800 pandas on the planet. I always put it into context -- there are more bears in the state of Virginia than there are Pandas in the world."
I do hope Bei Bei procreates with the many females he will soon presumably meet off Tinder Beijing, or whatever dating app Giant Pandas use overseas. But -- and maybe this is just me -- I don't really see these slow-moving, sloth-like creatures as being real Romeos.
"That is actually a myth," Lisa Barham, a Cleveland foster care advocate by trade and one of America's real zoo enthusiasts every other waking minute, said.
She was there the day Bei Bei was unveiled to the public and spent most of last week saying goodbye. Barham, clad in panda garb from almost head to toe, gets emotional speaking of Harambe, the gorilla who had to be shot at the Cincinnati Zoo after a child fell into his habitat and Harambe grabbed him. Heck, she followed a lion named John from D.C. to Cincinnati, where he met a lioness from Louisville and had cubs. Some people might think Barham's a few bamboo shoots short of a terrarium. But when it comes to anything zoological, especially Giant Panda-related, Barham rocks.
"While [Panda intercourse] is challenging in captive settings instead of the wild," she began, "they are rather randy animals."
Bei Bei, randy? Who knew?
Anyhow, another good reason Bei Bei went bye bye? Now the other zoo animals can receive the attention and time from visitors they deserve.
I went by the Panda Plaza the other day. Then the Panda store, where I could choose from a Bei Bei book, any one of hundreds of Bei Bei stuffies and, yes, a Bei Bei snow globe.
Do you think the American Bison, who often have to return to Montana to procreate, get their own snow globe at the zoo? No, the buffalo don't. They get hay. That's it.
It's all about the pandas.
This is why I propose a new ad campaign for the National Zoo, to give thanks to all the species who weren't visited, photographed or had their own LemurCam or PorpoiseCam installed in their living quarters at all hours.
It will be called, "Hello, Naked Mole Rat."
This hairless, pink tiny creature actually looks just like Bei Bei when Mei Xiang gave birth to her and Tian Tian's son. The only problem is, the naked mole rat never gets bigger than 3 to 3.5 inches in length and 1.2 to 2.8 ounces in weight.
Nonetheless, they crawl through the same clear little pipes that they sell for hamsters at Petco and basically look like they just came out of the womb, like, every day of their life. These cute little vermin can be found in the Small Mammals exhibit at the National Zoo and are awaiting your visit right now ... Before Bei Bei decides Beijing is overrated and hijacks the spotlight again.