As you might know, my latest Magic Tree House, #48, A Perfect Day with Pandas came out this summer, along with my sister Natalie Pope Boyce’s newest Fact Tracker, Pandas and Other Endangered Species. Natalie always has an expert review her manuscripts to make sure that all her facts are correct, and this time her expert was Brandie Smith, Senior Curator at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.
When Natalie and I recently went down to participate in the National Book Festival in Washington, we scheduled a visit with Brandie at the zoo. Coincidentally, a miraculous event had just occurred at the Panda House there – a baby panda had been born– and no one had known that the mother was pregnant!
It’s no surprise that the mother panda could have been pregnant without showing signs. When a baby panda is born, it is only about six inches long and weighs only three to five ounces. That’s no bigger than a stick of butter! Since a newborn panda is one of the most helpless creatures to ever come into the world, it’s not surprising that most do not survive.
Well, on a glorious sunny Friday afternoon at the Washington zoo, Natalie and I met with Brandie and other wonderful animal keepers and we all marveled and rejoiced over the tiny baby as we observed it and its mother viaa live video camera. When Natalie and I spoke at the book festival on Saturday, we encouraged all the kids to follow the progress of their local miracle baby.I’m sad to report — as most anyone who watches the news knows — that the baby panda died on Sunday. When I heard of its death, I cried uncontrollably. I think everyone must have felt similar feelings of grief, for all the people I’ve spoken to about it have expressed an inexplicable sorrow.
It was irrational, some might think, to be so attached to a hairless creature no bigger than a stick of butter, who I only observed for a short time on a video screen – in fact, I never saw more than its tiny head. But deep grief doesn’t often come from a rational place; it’s more mysterious than that. I can only hope that all the good and sad news about the panda will inspire morepeople to pay more attention to the plight of endangered species — and to honor those who already pay great attention.
On that radiant Friday afternoon, when the baby panda was only five days old, Brandie Smith and the other workers at the National Zoo seemed like angels to Natalie and me.