The zoo's pandas live in a veritable surveillance state, with 38 cameras capturing Mei Xiang, her newborn and the male panda, Tien Tien. The action tantalizing much of the Washington region and beyond happens inside one of Mei Xiang's dens, where mother and child bond under $12,000 worth of high-definition cameras and infrared lights.
The zoo used to have only standard-definition cameras that let the public watch the pandas on Windows-enabled computers. The old system kicked people off after only five minutes of continuous viewing.
But this year, thanks to grants from an anonymous donor and the Ford Motor Co. Fund, the zoo upgraded to a system that lets people using mobile and desktop devices — Mac or PC — watch for 15 minutes before being bumped off. (There's no limit if you're watching the panda cam on the zoo's app.)
But even the tricked-out technology wasn't able to stop the servers from crashing on the day Mei Xiang gave birth. The panda cam on the zoo's Web site was clicked on 128,000 times. Since then, the average number of daily clicks has fallen to about 66,000.
The most recent footage to titillate the panda populace was of the newborn trying to stand up. ("At least something important is happening in DC!" someone clever from Maine tweeted, along with a link to the video.)
Lisa Grove, a bookkeeper at a Frederick construction company, keeps the panda cam open all day at work. She never forgets to refresh her browser every 15 minutes. ("I'm greedy like that," she said, laughing.) But she insists that her panda voyeurism does not raise objections from colleagues.
"I do my work! I do my work!" said Grove, 47. "I told [my colleagues] when the panda was born. I was like, 'Hey — the baby panda was born!' " Her co-workers were not as excited as she was. "They were like, 'Oh. Okay.' I'm alone in my little world."