In the Company of Gao Gao

While Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu enjoy their ‘staycation’ on Center Street, Gao Gao has stayed behind at the Giant Panda Research Station to hold down the fort. While he is currently the only panda in the area, he is far from lonely! One of the most enriching aspects of Gao Gao’s daily routine is constant interaction with his keeper team. Along with numerous feedings and training sessions provided daily, Gao Gao’s close proximity to the keeper work area allows him to watch us while we work, and call out to us when he wishes for interaction!

Gao’s current living situation includes a large yard exhibit, four air conditioned bedrooms, and a tunnel system connecting them. Most days, he has the opportunity to wander between all the spaces and choose where he wants to spend his time. The tunnel system also allows Gao Gao to wander past the keeper area. He will sometimes sit and watch us as we clean, make diets, input records, and discuss the happenings of the day. Often, we will hear him ‘bleat’ from the tunnel, a vocalization that is panda speak for “pay attention to me”! As his keepers, we are all too happy to oblige, giving scratches and encouraging him to roll, spin, and be playful.

While it might just sound like fun and games, these daily interactions play an important role in allowing keepers to monitor Gao Gao’s health and attitude as he ages. By allowing him to make choices about how he spends his days, we continue to ensure that Gao Gao lives both a comfortable and stimulating life into his golden years.

Jessie McInelly is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.