National Zoo, Washington — LAST month, after three weeks of enforced indoor spring hibernation, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing ambled forth to romp on their new gym sets. At least, that was what the 200-plus cheering spectators were expecting. Instead, both giant pandas found fresh bamboo shoots had poked their tender tips up like a forest of spears, having had a chance to grow while 750 volunteers erected mod wooden panda ''furniture.''
Television camera crews, professional photographers representing wire services, newspapers, not to mention the 200-plus spectators, many with their trusty cameras, began recording the pandas' every move.
After two hours of munching, hardly a bamboo shoot remained. The tiny forest was consumed in both exercise yards. It looked like an eat-and-run situation, with no attention paid to the new gyms, when the more active Hsing-Hsing ambled up to a large truck tire suspended by chains - and, incidentally, stuffed with some bamboo leaves.
As the playful panda reached for the leaves, the tire began to swing, and he immediately saw the possibilities, swinging it around by batting it with his paws while lying under it. Then he poked his head through and tried it on for size around his neck.
Once again it seemed to be all over, but after a munch or two on some bamboo missed on the first round, he spotted a shoot of his favorite liking stuck high up on his new play-thing.
He worked his way up to the food on timbers arranged in stair-step fashion. Once there, he may have thought he was in a fancy new restaurant.
Finally, almost on signal, both pandas ambled off to napping spots. Ling-Ling rested her head on a cool place in the shade, and Hsing-Hsing, barely visible, turned upside down on his back by the gate leading indoors.