Today I went to the National Zoo, which is not the most lovely zoo in the world, but it’s free and it’s got the good stuff: hippos, elephants, gorillas, and tigers. Even better, it has giant pandas. Best of all, the female giant panda just had a cub a month ago. You can’t see it in person yet, but check out the Panda Cam.

While the cub and his mom are stuck indoors, the male panda is still outside for viewing. It was so hot today that he was just hanging out in the shade, panting (as were all the other animals that I saw). Knowing that panda survival is precarious, I asked the zoo volunteer standing nearby how the heat compared to the panda’s natural habitat. Apparently it’s quite hot for a panda, but the rocky outcropping where he was hiding out is air conditioned.

This zoo volunteer was so obviously knowledgeable and crazy about the pandas that I wound up asking him all kinds of questions. It turns out he’s a retired accountant who lives several hours away in Pennsylvania and comes down to Washington once a week to volunteer at the panda exhibit. He was just so into the pandas it was adorable. Sometimes people’s obsessions seem weird and creepy, but sometimes it’s just great to see someone so enthusiastic about something. Of course, pandas are so cute it’s not hard to understand, though I don’t think I could love pandas to the exclusion of elephants and hippos, or most especially, hedgehogs.

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