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Best of Mei Lan, Year 3

Read more about her journey to China >

October 20, 2010
This world of the giant panda is an odd place for one who is more familiar with primates. Discordant building temperatures: the balmy mid-to-upper 70s where Lun Lun and the cub are housed and the noticeably colder portions of the building where Yang Yang and Mei Lan reside. Lighting takes on the contrasting black-and-white pelage of the bears it houses – dark in some areas and light in others. Gathering bamboo for Lun Lun, my eyes and my body’s thermostats adjust slowly to the lack of illumination and the changes in temperature as I attempt to tiptoe past whichever sleeping bear is along my path. I wander back to the bamboo cooler. If my eyes are especially sluggish, I can’t determine if it is Yang Yang or Mei Lan who lies watching my shadowy figure pass through – at first, empty handed; then, carrying a hefty bundle of bamboo, none of which is ever shared with them. Yet, they seem accepting of these nocturnal activities and my lack of generosity, which is quite fortunate for me!
Debbie Forde
Curatorial Assistant

Wednesday, December 3
Time to brag about Mei Lan some more! Over the past two weeks we have been training Mei Lan to receive voluntary injections in her rear leg. This involves her entering a restraint cage and lying down so that her leg can safely be accessed by the veterinarian. This is an important behavior for her to learn so that we can administer the anesthesia for routine exams while minimizing stress. Well, this past Monday Mei Lan had her routine physical exam and she cooperated with the injection perfectly! She did not even flinch when the needle was inserted. Way to go Mei Lan!!
Kate Roca
Carnivore Keeper II

Tuesday, December 16
Xi Lan continues to do very well, so I thought I would give you an update on Mei Lan and her training progress. I can finally say with confidence that Mei Lan has been fully trained for voluntary blood draws, because we were able to get a blood sample from her on Sunday! Training her for this behavior began back on August 21 and was finished just two days ago. Though that may seem like a long time, I was not able to train her every day; in total it only took about 35 sessions, each about 5-10 minutes long, to train the behavior. There was a chance that we could have collected a blood sample a few weeks earlier, but I decided to wait, because she was having a physical on December 1. It all goes to show just how smart giant pandas really are. Mei Lan didn’t seem to mind that she was getting stuck by a needle - she was just interested in getting her biscuits.

Mei Lan has learned a lot of new behaviors over the last two months. Early on, she learned a shift command and a target command, both around her first birthday. But then the progress she made in her training seemed to slow down quite a bit. We weren’t sure why, but she just wasn’t picking up on the behaviors that Kate, Heather and I were trying to teach her. We didn’t give up though, and we kept trying to teach her new things. So, over the last couple of months she has learned a number of new behaviors, including "paw," "down" and "open mouth." In addition, she also received her injection of anesthesia for her physical voluntarily. There are still many more behaviors that she will learn, and who knows, she may soon know as many behaviors as her parents do!
Joseph T. Svoke
Carnivore Keeper II

Sunday, January 4
We are frequently asked whether or not Mei Lan can tell if she has a little brother, and this seems like a particularly good question now that Xi Lan is spending time in the dayroom. When Xi Lan is the dayroom, there's a good chance that Mei Lan will be next door, in the adjacent habitat. The dayroom and the habitat are separated by a thick, glass wall, and you may see Mei Lan spending time near the glass. Does Mei Lan see her little brother through the glass? There really has been very little experimental research conducted on the vision of bears, so it's difficult to determine exactly what she can see, but she can probably see that there are giant pandas on the other side of the glass. When we had three pandas, we often had the situation when all three were on exhibit, which would result in two of the pandas being next to each other in the dayroom and habitat. The pandas spend relatively little time looking at each other through the glass partition when they are housed in this manner. 

Giant pandas communicate with each other using a variety of vocalizations and olfactory cues, which do not easily travel through the glass partition. In the case of Mei Lan and Xi Lan, the information that Mei Lan could gain from the sounds and smells of her little brother would probably provide more information to her than visual cues. If, for example, we gave Mei Lan access to the dayroom after Lun Lun and Xi Lan had spent time in it, you would see Mei Lan spend a lot of time sniffing certain areas of the dayroom so that she could gather information about who had been there. So, when you see Mei Lan and Xi Lan in adjacent areas, such as the dayroom and the habitat, it's likely that Mei Lan can see him through the glass, but unlikely that she can recognize him as her little brother from simply looking at him.
Megan Wilson, PhD
Assistant Curator of Carnivores

 
Mei Lan  

Monday, January 26
Even though I am a Northerner, like most Atlantans, I am not particularly fond of the cold weather. However, the giant pandas undoubtedly relish these cold, brisk temperatures. During the month of January, when the temperatures are cooler and breeding season approaches, it’s typical to see a lot of play behavior from Yang Yang. This year is no exception. For the past week or so he has been bouncing off the walls, literally. He runs around full speed in the back den areas and somersaults around in the habitats. What is also really exciting to see is this same play behavior from Mei Lan. She has been significantly more playful in the past few weeks than I have ever seen her. Kenn and Kate told me that she even spent over 20 minutes one morning occupied in a dayroom with her big red ball. She was intensely “play attacking” the ball and chasing it around. It is quite a treat to see them increasingly playful and spunky.

Xi Lan weighed 8.3kg (18.3 lbs) on Friday. Today he took his first (that I have seen) drink of water from one of the automatic water bowls. He has to stand on his hind legs to do that and seems to be getting a lot better at it, which is also important for learning to climb.
Lynn Culver
Keeper I Carnivores

Monday, February 16
Today’s update will be about a subject everyone loves – sleep! Because the giant pandas spend quite a bit of their time sleeping, it is very easy to see that they differ in the location and position that they prefer. Lun seems to prefer to sleep off of the ground, especially when she is in dayroom. Of course now that she has Xi Lan, she does spend most of her time on the ground when she sleeps, so she can sleep with him. Yang is the exact opposite of Lun. He prefers to sleep on the ground, either in a loose ball or completely sprawled out. What makes his sleeping habits so amusing is that most of the time when he dozes off, he will have what we call a “snaggle tooth”. His top lip will slowly curl up and he will have his top, right canine exposed. When Mei Lan was a cub she preferred to sleep up in the dayroom tree structure. She would sprawl out in the middle of the vertical tree branch. What is interesting now is that her brother sleeps up in that same tree, but prefers a totally different spot. Xi Lan wedges himself under and in between the structure’s logs. Now that Mei Lan is older she almost sleeps in an identical way to Lun, by finding a nice spot off of the ground. I’m curious to see how Xi Lan’s sleeping preferences will change as he gets older. Who knew there were so many different ways a panda could sleep? Nevertheless, they all do share a single preference when it comes to sleeping: a good sleep is a really, really, long sleep!
Lynn Culver
Carnviore Keeper I

Monday, March 2
Mother Nature paid us a nice visit today here at Zoo Atlanta. The day started off with a cold rain, which led to sleet, which led to snow. When all was said and done, I believe we got about four inches of the stuff, if not more. The reason I bring it up is that Mei Lan has never seen snow, or at least never enough to accumulate. Well, today would be her day. After it had been snowing for some time, and there was a good bit on the ground, we gave Mei Lan access to one of the outdoor habitats. Being that giant pandas are built for the cold, we were sure she was going to love it. We couldn't have been any more wrong! Upon exiting the building she gave the yard a look, but did not venture away from a sheltered corner for a while. She then bolted to the climbing structure in the center of the habitat and ran underneath, where she would be sheltered from the blizzard. After spending a couple of minutes under the structure, she bolted to the front of the exhibit, which as luck would have it, the area is covered with an awning and was devoid of snow. She paused here for a few brief moments before actually setting off on a tour of the entire habitat. She did actually walk around the whole habitat; however, she stuck close to the side walls. The walls also sheltered her from the snow and the ground was clear next to them. When she got most of the way around the habitat, and saw the open door to the building was in reach, she bolted inside to the nice heated building. Although we left the door open for a while, she never ventured anywhere near it for the rest of the day. Oh well, maybe next time will be different.
Kenn Harwood
Lead Keeper of Carnivores

Friday, April 17
This past Tuesday, Xi Lan took a big step forward by spending the whole day outside. We had hoped for a repeat of that today, but his favorite place for an afternoon nap is still on the top of the structure in the air-conditioned dayroom. Not even his arch-nemesis, the springy bush that I mentioned in my last update, kept his attention for very long. Mei Lan, on the other hand, basked in the sunshine (and adoration of Zoo Atlanta visitors) today rather than retreating to the shade or air-conditioning. I was tempted to tell Xi Lan the classic, guilt-trip quote my mother always used on me: “It’s a beautiful day outside. Why are you wasting it by staying inside?” But Xi Lan just yawned at me, sticking that out little pink tongue. Even his acts of defiance are cute!
Caroline Jones
Seasonal Carnivore Keeper

 
  Checking in on Mei Lan

Wednesday, July 15
The pandas have been extra busy this past week, as their usual summer decrease in appetite has led to a flurry of playful exuberance. Both Mei Lan and Xi Lan have given us some memorable moments. 

Although it’s steamy hot weather outside, the usual Atlanta summer, we experienced a unique “snowstorm” this week in the panda building. Mei Lan was given a box stuffed with shredded paper and fruit hidden underneath this. She made quick work of the box, tearing away to find the food inside. What we did not expect, however, was her excitement over the paper. Her own kind of snow! With great enthusiasm, Mei Lan began covering herself in the paper shreds and soon was looking very messy. She, nor we, minded though. I think we all enjoyed this July snowstorm.

Meanwhile, Xi Lan has been discovering bamboo and all of its possibilities. He has taken to hoisting big pieces of his mother’s bamboo up to the top of the wooden structure in the dayroom and ceremoniously attempting to gnaw on some of the leaves.  Though we aren’t sure how much of the bamboo he’s actually consuming, it is extremely endearing to watch him try!
Allison Conboy
Seasonal Carnivore Keeper

Wednesday, September 17
Well the cub has reached a weight milestone. He weighed 512.2 grams this morning, which is over one pound!

 
Wednesday, August 5
Some of you may recall that I wrote about providing scent enrichment for the pandas a few weeks ago. I described how certain scents elicit self-anointing behavior from Lun Lun, Yang Yang and even Xi Lan; however, Mei Lan has never exhibited this behavior in response to scent enrichment. Until now. Last week, she was given mouthwash on an ice block and for some reason she started self-anointing with the scented ice block!  It was odd but, also exciting at the same time! Why did she suddenly show an interest in this scent? Unfortunately, I do not know the answer to that, but I did try a little experiment. I wondered if Mei Lan responded to the scent because it was offered on an ice block, because she does like ice and plays with it whenever she gets it. Or perhaps it was just a fluke. So, today, I put a puddle of mouthwash in her overnight den and waited to see her reaction. To my surprise and enjoyment, she stuck her nose in the puddle, sneezed, and then rubbed some of the mouthwash on her head. She made another swipe at her head with her mouthwash-soaked paw and started to walk away. Or so I thought. She turned and flopped herself down in the puddle and started rolling in the mouthwash, using both paws to rub it on her head.  he spent over five minutes playing in the mouthwash puddle. It was fantastic! I don't know if this means she will now be interested in other scents, but I do know there's at least one scent that she seems to enjoy.
Heather Baker Roberts
Carnivore Keeper II
 
 
 
Mei Lan's 3rd birthday  
Monday, September 7
Another Sunday, another birthday! On the 6th, Mei Lan got to celebrate her 3rd birthday. Though there wasn't any fanfare (that happens on the 19th), she still got to enjoy an ice cake that was specially made with three bamboo candles. The ice part was not that stimulating for her this year, but she loved the bamboo candles and tried to consume them. Who knows where the three years went, but she is growing up to be a “big girl” now. I hope that she enjoyed her birthday song this morning!
Joseph T. Svoke
Carnivore Keeper III

Monday, Septmeber 28
If you haven’t worked as a keeper in the giant panda building for a couple of months, when you return you find that a lot has changed. Sometimes these changes are subtle (i.e. slight diet changes), and other times they can be huge developmental changes. I experienced two of these changes this past week when I was working in the building. One of which is the size of Mei Lan. She’s gotten HUGE! I couldn’t believe how big she was when I walked into the building to see her asleep in her overnight den. It is crazy to me how big she has gotten just over a couple of months. She is now around 89 kg (195.8 lbs)! The second change I have been lucky enough to experience has been Xi Lan’s excellent ability to shift throughout the building, from area to area. Whenever we need to move a panda from one area to another we simply use his/her name, followed by the command word “shift.” The panda is then expected to move through the open doors until reaching the desired location. Xi Lan, although he has not quite mastered this completely, has caught on to this concept with ease. Whenever I called out for him to shift, I saw him barreling down the tree and running full speed for the door. The only exception to this comes when the little guy is tired and has no intention of getting up from his resting place. He tends to have the classic “teenager” approach to the situation; if pandas actually slept with blankets, I could see him pulling it over his head, pretending not to hear a word I am saying.
Lynn Culver
Keeper I Carnivores

Monday, November 16
On Sunday morning I spent 2 hours collecting data, one hour on Lun Lun and one hour on Yang Yang. Data collection was a bit slow (lots of eating and sleeping from the giant pandas), so I kept an eye on Mei Lan, too. After spending some time eating, she noticed the blue ball that the keepers had given her for enrichment. She proceeded to attack it for a few minutes and then left it behind to play on her own. She repeatedly ran through her bamboo and climbed up and down the climbing structure. When she was on the climbing structure she dangled off the top and let herself fall to the ground several times. It sure looked like she was having a great time. She certainly reminded me of a young cub, but even more of her dad when he gets fired up. It was like watching a miniature version of Yang Yang race around the dayroom. Although watching giant pandas eat and sleep isn’t a bad deal, Mei Lan provided me with some great entertainment and livened up my Sunday morning. 
Megan Wilson, Ph.D.
Assistant Curator of Carnivores

Friday, December 11
You may have noticed the fire hose ladder that’s now in one of the dayrooms. The ladder is attached to the climbing structure, in the same way that the hammock can be attached to the logs. Although all of the pandas seem to enjoy the hammock, they also seem to enjoy the ladder quite a bit as well. Last week Mei Lan engaged in a pretty vigorous play bout that incorporated the ladder. Several times during the play bout she tried to climb up the ladder, which proved to be very difficult. She carefully placed her paws on the fire hose, but because it wasn’t all that stable, the ladder moved and she fell off. This happened several times, but each time Mei Lan made it closer to the top (but on very shaky legs!). It reminded me of the carnival game that requires a contestant to climb to the top of a very wobbly rope ladder to get the prize. It seems nearly impossible to actually get to the top without falling in that game. Although it did appear very difficult for Mei Lan to get to the top her ladder, I don’t think it was impossible. In fact, I actually think she enjoyed the falling part, too.
Megan Wilson, Ph.D.
Assistant Curator of Carnivores

Friday, January 22 2010
Mei Lan has discovered the wonders of ultrasound gel! As some of you may know (or have read in previous updates), Lun Lun is an avid fan of it, but Monday was the first time that Mei Lan ever reacted to it. We had used the gel on several different occasions with her when training her for ultrasound behavior, but previously there was no reaction from her. For whatever reason when she smelled it on Monday she decided to rub it all over her body and self-anoint with it. This is what Lun Lun likes to do, and we just have to wait for her to calm down, and then ask her to get into the proper position again. After that initial reaction, she normally will not break from the session again. As we are getting closer to the time that Mei Lan will be heading to her mother-land, we are trying to increase the length of time that she will participate in a session. So far so good, as each session seems to last a little bit longer.
Joseph T. Svoke
Carnivore Keeper III

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