We knew the federal government shutdown would mean going without some things. Getting a passport. Going to a national park. But to deprive us of the the National Zoo’s panda cam just seems cruel — especially at a time when giant panda Mei Xiang’s female, yet-to-be-named cub is nearly 6 weeks old and a wriggling, squealing furball of fun for her mother and for the millions of us watching her.
Maybe the panda cam isn’t as essential as the military, but surely it’s as essential as mail delivery. And much more pleasant. Toggling between Panda Cam 1 (always the better one) and Panda Cam 2 on the National Zoo’s website to view the black and white video of mother and cub sleeping, cuddling, rolling over each other provides the perfect mental health break during a stressful workday. We can only marvel at the lumbering giant panda lobbing an arm over a cub that looks the size of a tiny stuffed toy without squashing it.
Can’t the squabbling members of Congress agree to exempt the panda cam from the shutdown? Who among them has not taken a peek at the cam? And wouldn’t they all be in a better frame of mind for negotiating an agreement if they could spend a little time with the panda cam right now?
“CONGRESS, GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER. FOR THE LOVE OF THE BABY PANDA” reads one plea on the National Zoo’s Facebook page.
The National Zoo is under the auspices of the federal Smithsonian Institution. The panda cam is actually run by volunteers. But during a government shutdown, only “essential employees” are allowed on federal property. And even if the unpaid volunteers were allowed in, operating the cams requires federal staff and resources unavailable during the shutdown, according to Jen Zoon, a spokesperson for the zoo.
Of course, all of the zoo’s animal care staff are considered essential and are still on the job. And even without the panda cam, keepers can monitor the mother and cub who have been off exhibit and allowed to bond by themselves in some privacy.
“When Mei leaves the den to eat, keepers can get a closer visual on the cub,” Zoon says.
Of course, there are other avenues for getting a panda fix. There is the San Diego Zoo panda cam. And, if what you really need is a panda cub — and who doesn’t — there are the giant panda twins born July 15 at Zoo Atlanta who are quite adorable on their own cam.
Let’s just hope this seemingly intractable dispute doesn’t cost us weeks of watching the National Zoo panda cub. They grow up so fast.