What’s black and white and loved all over?

It’s Tai Shan, the National Zoo’s giant panda cub. After nearly five months of anticipation, Washington, D.C.’s youngest and furriest celebrity will finally make his public debut on Dec. 8 in a panda extravaganza at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in northern Adams Morgan.

The panda’s first public viewing coincides with an Animal Planet special presentation, “A Panda Is Born,” on Dec. 10 at 8 p.m.

One lucky Georgetown student got to see the panda in a special visit in October. Molly Keogh (SFS ’08), who calls her interest in the panda cub “an obsession,” had the opportunity to meet Tai Shan with the director of the zoo after her grandmother got her a ticket.

“He was still really small, and he couldn’t really walk, so he was kind of sliding around on his stomach, Keogh said. “It was really cute. Basically, I spent the whole time squealing.”

Like many students, Laura Navar (MSB ’06) first saw the panda cub in Washington Post photographs.

“There was a picture of his mom holding him when he was really little. That’s when I fell in love with him,” Navar said. “What attracted me was how human-like she was with him. . She would hold him like a human baby.”

The “pandacam” on the National Zoo’s Web site is also a popular destination for fans looking to check out Tai Shan and his mom.

“Ever since the panda was born, I watch the pandacam 24 hours a day,” Keogh said. “Literally, it’s the background of my computer.”

Tai Shan’s name – which means “peaceful mountain” in Mandarin Chinese – stirred up some debate late last summer. FONZ held a poll with five options, including “Tai Shan”, which also happens to be the name of a mountain and Buddhist holy site in China. The list, however, did not include “Butterstick,” the nickname that Washingtonians attached to the cub after a zoo official described the newborn as the size of a stick of butter.

“I think it’s nice that in such a cynical and often depressingly intellectual town, everyone can still get so excited about a baby panda nicknamed `Butterstick,'” Brittany Gregerson (SFS ’08) said. “I think that bodes well for human nature.”

“Tai Shan” won the poll with 200,000 votes.

Forty thousand tickets have been distributed for the upcoming month’s viewings, according to Susan Lumpkin, the director of communications for Friends of the National Zoo, the non-profit organization that supports the zoo.

The tickets earmarked for the public sold out in two hours. There are a limited number of same-day tickets available to the public, as well as some tickets set aside for FONZ members.

Despite all the attention and debate, some students said they think that the media’s coverage of the panda cub is over the top.

“I have to say, although I’m excited about the baby panda being born, I think all of the coverage is kind of a lot, because you can barely see it,” Kathleen Flahive (COL ’08) said, referring to the limited availability of tickets. “I think it’s really exciting in theory, but . I feel like it can’t be equal to all of the hype.”

For many men on campus, the panda is not even an issue.

“I think guys would care only if their girlfriends made them go see the panda,” Greg Zlotnick (COL ’08) said. “It’s cute and all, but . I’d rather watch football.”

The first round of public viewings will last into January. Ticket holders have the opportunity to see the panda cub between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Zoo officials have said that after this initial period of viewings, the hours will probably expand once they give the four-month-old panda time to become acclimated to crowds.

Only four zoos in the United States have giant pandas. The National Zoo received its two adult pandas, Tai Shan’s mother ei Xiang and father Tian Tian, in 2000 on a 10-year loan from China, leaving students and area residents four more years to go see them.

But with all of the excitement over the baby panda, another special delivery at the zoo was overlooked: the baby cheetahs, who were born April 14. The litter of five can be seen without tickets or very long lines.

“I think the baby cheetahs this summer were cuter,” Zlotnick said. “I saw the pictures on the Web site, and I was like, `Those are adorable.’ But I guess it’s all about the panda now.”

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