It’s springtime in Panda Canyon, yet not much has changed in the last couple of months.
Bai Yun is doing quite well on exhibit and seems to be enjoying her alone time. Our majestic Mother Panda passed her physical with flying colors and is in excellent health for her age at 24. Now considered a geriatric panda, her keepers are making sure she continues to thrive. We always monitor our pandas’ health, and we’re especially watching Bai Yun’s teeth as she ages.
Bamboo, the mainstay of a panda’s diet, is considered a grass but grows into thick stalks with a rock-hard outer covering. To reach the delicious inner part of the stalk, a panda must break the stalk. No problem for giant pandas, which have the strongest jaws in the bear family! But all that crunching and munching can take its toll on the choppers. So, we keepers do our part to help out. As the bears age, we break their bamboo into smaller pieces using many different tools, such as a log smasher, hammers, sledge hammers, splitters, and hand clippers. Animals live longer lives in managed care due to excellent veterinary care, nutritionists, and their keepers. Bai Yun is also learning how to present her arm for blood pressure readings, so in the future we will be able to compare her numbers to those of our two males.
Xiao Liwu is growing into such a handsome boy, even though he still has a “cubby” side to him. He is now weighs 163 pounds (74 kilograms) and is almost the same size and weight as his father, Gao Gao. He may be growing up but he reminds us that he still is a teenager at times. He enjoys his playful times where he runs around the exhibit or hangs upside down from his crosswalk pretending he is going to fall. He watches out for when his keepers pass by and knows how to get extra bamboo if he wants it, too! He will toss his bamboo around or call to his keepers from the top of the artificial tree to get their attention. If he has been good and calm, he sometimes gets an apple tossed in his pool as an extra treat. It has been such an experience watching him grow up and see his personality. He will make his way to China, like his siblings, and hopefully will add to the genetic diversity for the future.
Gao Gao is the most spoiled panda that we have. He is enjoying a non-viewable exhibit with access to his bedrooms all day. However, he is sometimes seen on Panda Camera from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (PDT). This is so his keepers can keep a close eye on him during the day as he ages, now that he is approximately 26 years old. He is still enjoying his bamboo bread and his smaller pieces of bamboo. He does have a playful side to him and calls to his keepers often. When he sees his keepers, he likes to bleat and call to them for back scratches. And it’s always hard to say no to him when he is looking at you sweetly! He has been enjoying pool time in his exhibit and also sleeping in his black tub filled with pine shavings.
Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous blog about pandas and other animals, Down Comes the Rain.