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Giant panda celebrates 4th birthday at National Zoo

  • Story Highlights
  • Tai Shan was born at the Smithsonian National Zoo
  • Birthday boy gets a special cake made of ice, beets, apples and pears
  • Zoo curator says pandas are popular because they resemble young children
  • Though born in U.S., Tai Shan due to be sent to China later this year
From Brittany Cummings
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A birthday "cake" made of ice, beets, apples and pears? It might not sound appetizing, but it was a special treat Thursday for Tai Shan, the Smithsonian National Zoo's giant panda.

Giant panda Tai Shan digs into his special birthday cake of ice, beets, apples and pears.

Giant panda Tai Shan digs into his special birthday cake of ice, beets, apples and pears.

A huge group of fans watched as the popular panda celebrated his fourth birthday with the three-tier cake.

They cheered him on as he inched closer to the treat, and one woman yelled "Atta boy Tai Shan!" when he finally started eating the apple pieces on the cake's lowest tier.

She cheered the panda on for eating his "cake" the same way a mom might cheer on her son at a soccer game or dad might cheer his daughter playing basketball.

Zoo curator Lisa Stevens said people react that way because of how pandas resemble children.

"They share many features of infants and toddlers. They have high foreheads, big eye spots, and they can sit up straight and grip and eat their food," Stevens said.

Pandas are also known to give hope to the downtrodden, according to one loyal Tai Shan fan who called herself "Sandy."

During her battle against a medical condition that caused her to be unable to walk, she said that frequent visits to the zoo to see Tai Shan gave her the strength she needed to persevere through the pain.

"I could barely stand an hour to see him, now I could stand all day to watch him. I pushed myself for him ... he's done so much for me and for people all over the world," she said.

Tai Shan was born at the zoo and has had his entire life documented on a Web cam for the whole world to see.

Fans may have little time left to enjoy Tai Shan, as the zoo's contract with the China Wildlife Conservation Association to keep him is set to expire later this year.

The zoo is negotiating with the conservation association to keep Tai Shan a few months longer.

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