Bao Bao ventures outside for first time

Bao Bao the panda cub ventured outside for the first time with mother Mei Xiang on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. (Photo: Devin Murphy/National Zoo)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - D.C. residents aren't the only ones celebrating the long-awaited start of spring - so are Bao Bao the panda cub and her mother.

Bao Bao the beloved panda cub ventured outside for the first time Tuesday morning, April 1. Staff at the National Zoo said, weather permitting, the panda will be exploring the outdoors with her mother each day this week beginning at 8 a.m.

“She was a little apprehensive in the first few minutes, but once Mei Xiang, her mom, came a little bit closer and she realized where her mom was, she made that connection,” said keeper Juan Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is one of Bao Bao’s four full-time zookeepers, and says they had to cub-proof the outdoor area:

"We put some extra hay out there just in case she decided to go out a little farther on the rock work, and if she did fall, she would fall on a big pile of hay, so we made sure that all the area was sort of 'baby-proof,' if you will."

The zoo also built a new secure fence line around the area and put collars on some of the trees to make sure the cub can’t climb more than six feet – for now.

Visitors came from all over to check out the pandas:

"We wanted to see what exciting things were here today,” said Amy Meyer from Buffalo, NY.

And Andre Brown came from Indianapolis:

“They look like big teddy bears...just to be able to see that type of animal is a unique experience."

Dan McClaughlin brought his grandson from Idaho:

"Exciting -- we've been reading about them for years!"

Zoo staffers were quick to post photos on their official Flickr page, showing Bao Bao touching grass for the first time, rolling around and even trying to climb a tree.

Zookeepers said it is up to Bao Bao how long the panda will stay outside each time, and it will be Bao Bao's choice whether to play outdoors or return to the panda house.

"It may take several weeks before Bao Bao is venturing outside with Mei Xiang regularly," they said on the website.