At four months old and nearly 17 pounds, baby Bao Bao is learning how to climb.

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WASHINGTON -- Cameras were snapping like the paparazzi Monday morning, but the panda cub paid no mind.

At four months old and nearly 17 pounds, baby Bao Bao is as precious as the meaning of her name. Climbing and stumbling in her den, she's almost toddler-like.

"You're right," said National Zoo Senior Curator Brandie Smith. "She went through infancy when she could crawl and now she's learning to climb and stumble around. It's really fun to watch her now."

Zoo staffers are taking baby steps to get Bao Bao ready for the spotlight by slowly introducing her to people.

"We're working on the yard and trying to cub proof it," said animal keeper Laurie Thompson.

But even when you come to visit her at the National Zoo, Bao Bao may not always be outside -- after all, she's just a baby.

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"Sometimes she'll be out and people will get a great experience, other times she'll be tired and we won't compromise her safety so if she's tired, she'll be sleeping."

Still, Bao Bao is gaining her independence. When mom Mei Xiang walked into the den, she checked on her cub and then left for some breakfast.

Both giant pandas are doing their own things.

"She's definitely independent. She is not at all worried that Mom is not there all the time," explained Thompson.

Smith says Bao Bao will probably stay at the zoo until she's about four years old and then she'll head to China for the breeding program there.

"And that's what's really great is this is an endangered species that we were able to create here and we get to share that moment with everyone so everyone can be a part of our success," said Smith.

Friends of the National Zoo, or FONZ members, will be able to celebrate that success in person from Jan. 11 to Jan. 17. Everyone else can visit Bao Bao beginning Jan. 18. The panda den is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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