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Panda Cub Updates: December 31 - October 15, 2013

Tuesday, December 31
As Jen has mentioned, we have started training with the cubs. Training animals to shift from one area to another is a fundamental behavior for our pandas. We have to be able to move them from den to dayroom or exhibit and back again in order to feed them and clean up after them. The cubs always start learning this behavior from Lun Lun -- by following her -- and we keepers reinforce it with praise. Some of you may remember that we trained Lun Lun to retrieve her cubs. We started this with Mei Lan, and by the time Xi Lan was going on exhibit with her, she had perfected it. She still remembers this behavior, and we have been asking it her to do it with Mei Lun and Mei Huan as well (she does know to get both cubs even if we just give her the cue words once!). Now Lun Lun is anticipating that we will ask her to retrieve the cubs. Friday morning while I was setting up her dayroom with bamboo, she gathered both cubs into the den closest to the dayroom and waited for me to shift her into the exhibit. Lun Lun inspired me, so I decided to try to see if the cubs would shift onto exhibit with her. They followed her all the way to the exhibit door, but the hallway was a much more interesting place to play and explore, so they did not follow her out into the dayroom. I persisted (Lun Lun was too busy eating fresh bamboo to help me by retrieving them). After approximately five minutes of the girls running in and out and playing in the doorway, both cubs went out into the dayroom!  It was very exciting and was a great first step!
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III

Monday, December 30
It was a very playful morning this morning here in pandas, perhaps a little too playful. The cubs were a lot of fun to watch as they climbed on top of each other, mouthing and clawing, then falling off and the opposite cub would try to get on top. I’m not sure who won the battle of this morning, but trying to get two tired cubs to follow mom on exhibit was a hard task for us today. Mei Huan would follow and then we would call Mei Lun and Mei Huan would come back, confused of where she was supposed to go. Mei Lun did not want to wake up from her nap, tucked back behind the scale. Once we finally got them all on exhibit, it was time for yet another play session, this time playing king of the water drinker. When that game was over, it was naptime for both. Mei Lun found her favorite spot on top of the climbing structure, near Po’s favorite sleeping spot, and Mei Huan snuggled up to one of their enrichment balls. The eventful morning had come to an end, and both were ready to sleep the day away.
Mollye N.
Keeper III

Friday, December 27
Because I can check in on the giant pandas frequently in person, I don’t often watch Panda Cam; however, recently I was off for a few days and catching up on work at my desk, so I decided to tune in.  The image I saw when I connected was that of Lun Lun meandering around the dayroom, while the cubs slept on the structure.  Looked pretty normal to me.  When I tuned in next, I instead saw one of the giant pandas asleep in Habitat 1 (I’m sure the Panda Cam aficionados out there are used to these brief changes of scenery).  Again, pretty normal.  Moments later, the camera was back on Lun Lun and the cubs, but this time Lun Lun was happily munching away on some bamboo.  The cubs?  No change.  Still sleeping on the structure.  After that, I found myself checking back occasionally to make sure I wasn’t missing something.  Like everyone else watching Panda Cam, I was waiting for the cubs to wake up and play with either each other or Lun Lun!  The holiday season must be tiring them out, too, because they continued to nap until I closed my browser and got back to work. 
Megan Wilson, PhD.
Assistant Curator of Mammals

Thursday, December 19
With the panda building merging sides again and the pandas falling under the care of the same keepers, it is now my turn to help care for the cubs. It'll be a lot of work taking care of six pandas but it will be well worth it to get to know these little ladies. Like many of you, I will be learning the subtle differences in their faces and their growing personalities in order to tell them apart. But for now, I will continue to rely on the small patch of shaved fur on Mei Lun. I am excited to get to know them as they continue to grow and develop and to explore their surroundings. I will be able to watch them as they hit each new milestone and eventually, as they explore the rest of the panda building and exhibit.
Shauna D.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Tuesday, December 17
The twins have reached another milestone right on time. They are climbing! This is an important skill for a young giant panda to develop. Cubs in the wild often rest in trees while their mothers forage for bamboo. This is likely the safest place for a cub to be while its mother is occupied. Captive born cubs also prefer to rest above the ground when they are old enough to climb to a suitable resting spot. Soon, you can expect to see Mei Lun and Mei Hun sleeping on the climbing structure as their older siblings did. 

With climbing comes falling, you may have already seen the twins fall from the climbing structure. It is normal for young pandas to fall. I know it looks like a long way down and you might think they could get hurt. But at this age, they are nearly indestructible. Bears are tough and bear cubs which are old enough to leave the den are also tough. Please don’t worry about the twins. The animal care staff keeps a close eye on them and will check them if there is anything to be concerned about. Instead enjoy the twins antics and admire their ability to pummel each other, their mother, and to fall and get right back up to do it all over again.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Monday, December 16
Wow, the last five months have really flown by! Lun Lun has proven to be an excellent mother to her twins, and the girls are continuing to do well under her care. Because of this, yesterday was my last shift in the panda nursery. I have enjoyed every moment of watching these two cubs grow from the tiny, pink creatures they were when they were born to the cute fuzzballs they are now. It is very rewarding to see our panda family thriving after all these months of close and careful monitoring!

Yesterday was bittersweet. The change in routine means it is time for me to return to my primary area within the Mammal Department – the petting zoo. I have missed the goats, sheep and other species that I help care for each day. I am excited to return to them and get to know the few new faces that have moved into the area since July, but my time with Lun Lun and her cubs has been an experience that I will never forget!  I'll be checking in on my favorite trio and look forward to watching the cubs' antics as they enter this next phase of their lives, just as I’m sure you all will!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Friday, December 13
I hope everyone is enjoying their "glimpses" of the cubs in the dayroom exhibit recently! We have been experimenting with closing the door to the exhibit for just 30 minutes everyday this week to help Lun Lun and the cubs get accustomed to no longer having access to their dens. So far, all three are adjusting to this change. On Wednesday, the cubs spent a good deal of time playing with a favorite enrichment toy of their older siblings – the half barrel (a 50-gallon drum cut in half). Just like Mei Lan, Xi Lan and Po before them, the cubs had a blast rocking back and forth, rolling around inside of and climbing in and out of the half-barrel!  If you happened to be watching Panda Cam at that time, you saw how much fun they had!  
Heather R. 
Carnivore Keeper III

Wednesday, December 11
The cubs have become very curious with their surroundings. They've discovered the training bars, the area behind the scale, the drinkers, Dayroom 1, etc. And with all of this steadfast exploration, the terrible duo could easily find themselves caught up in a pickle or getting into some type of mischief. They're either all over the place or passed out while they refuel. Thankfully Mei Lun and Mei Huan have a very observant mother who seems to have grown eyes in the back of her head as all moms tend to develop. If the cubs suddenly get very quiet, she’ll peer over and check out the situation. If they’re being ridiculously loud, she’ll go over and make sure everything is okay and partake in the wrestling match if the mood strikes her. The other night I was watching both of the cubs getting into a hardcore wrestling match behind the scale. They were both making a lot of annoyed grunting noises at each other as they each tried to gain the upper paw in the cramped space. They got so loud that Lun Lun actually put down the delicious piece of bamboo she had been destroying and walked over and stared, ears forward and neck stretched, at her two little ones checking to make sure they were ok. Unconcerned she wandered away a moment later, but the way she peered at her cubs trying to figure out what in the world they were up to was priceless, and it's an image I don't think I'll ever forget. Those two cubs are going to keep Lun Lun quite busy, that's for sure!
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Tuesday, December 10
We’re frequently asked if it’s harmful for the cubs to be in contact with Lun Lun’s feces. It’s not harmful for them; in fact, the opposite might be true. The young of some species consume their mothers’ feces to obtain the microbes needed to digest their food. This is especially common in species which eat plants and has been well documented in elephants and koalas. Giant panda cubs have not been observed consuming their mothers’ feces, but being exposed to the mothers’ feces may also help them obtain the needed microbes.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Monday, December 9
The cubs' new obsession with the scale is slightly problematic overnight. We do not have an infared light in that den, so in order to see the cubs we have to leave the dimmer light on overnight. Even with the dimmer light, it can be difficult to see them in certain parts of that den, especially behind the scale. We like to disturb the other pandas and Lun Lun as little as possible overnight and prefer to leave the lights off while we are here 24 hours a day. However, now that the cubs spend most of their time playing around or sleeping behind the scale, we are using the lights more often. When Lun Lun and the cubs are asleep, we take that opportunity to turn all of the lights out. We keepers just have to be vigilant about the sounds of the cubs or Lun Lun when they wake up. We have tried to encourage the cubs to sleep in the nest box overnight by returning them there after their weight checks, but they always make a beeline for the scale as soon as they are back in the dens! Don't worry, PandaCam viewers, you are not missing too much action in the wee hours; Lun Lun and the cubs do sleep for most of the night.
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III

Friday, December 6
Wednesday we decided to take the wood wool out from behind the scale in Den 1. If you have followed previous panda cubs here at the Zoo, you may remember that this was a favorite hangout spot for the twins' older brother, Po. He spent a lot of his time behind the scale as a young cub until he grew too large to fit behind it anymore. Mei Lun and Mei Huan have also decided that it is a fantastic place to play, hide, and rest. They spent a lot of the day chasing each other around the scale, wrestling, and practicing their climbing skills!

When the cubs were younger and less mobile, we didn't want them getting back there because there was a chance that they wouldn't know how to get themselves out. This could have been very stressful for themselves and Lun Lun because she likely would not have been able to get them out either. Now that the cubs are mobile, they have proven that they are capable of navigating through their world, so we no longer have these concerns about the area behind the scale. From the view on PandaCam, this space looks awfully small, but in reality, the area behind the scale is perfectly sized for a "cubs only" playspace. There are sure to be lots of cute moments to watch in the coming weeks as the cubs continue to explore this area and learn how to climb on the scale!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 
Thursday, December 5
It’s interesting to watch the personalities of the cubs change as they grow. Originally, Mei Huan was almost always the first one to initiate a play session with his brother. Now the roles have reversed, and Mei Lun has become the hyperactive cub always on the move and starting most of the wrestling matches. In other news, the cubs have figured out that the area around the scale that has been stuffed with wood wool is a fantastic playground! This morning, you might have watched as they spent a good amount of time playing around in the wood wool. Lun Lun had dug some of it up overnight, so Mei Huan of course figured out how to get behind the scale in a little open pocket his mom had inevitably created. I wasn’t too concerned as they are big enough now that they can climb back onto the scale.  I have a feeling the cubs will be sad when the wood wool disappears! 
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Wednesday, December 4
Tuesday night was a calm and peaceful night with a building full of sleeping giant pandas. Lun Lun woke up once to check on her cubs, eat for a bit, and then grabbed a cub to nurse. After that she, too, went back to sleep. I'm not surprised by this since I had heard that the cubs were quite playful during the day. Lun Lun spends most of the day eating as much bamboo as she can, so she's usually fat and happy and ready to sleep come the wee hours of the night. Current weights: Mei Lun: 6.347 kilograms and Mei Huan: 6.665 kilograms.
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Tuesday, December 3
Lun Lun and the cubs usually sleep for most of the night, so overnight shifts are pretty quiet. They usually don't wake up until shortly before the morning keepers arrive. Last night was the opposite. Lun Lun and Mei Huan woke up from a nap shortly after I arrived for my shift, and Mei Lun woke up not long after them. All three pandas were wide awake and very playful for most of the night, making it one of the most active nights I have experienced since the cubs were born. After all of that playing (and some meal breaks for Lun Lun), everyone was pretty tuckered out. The cubs even slept through being taken to the nursery for their morning weights!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Monday, December 2
This week the cubs have spent more time awake. Just a couple of weeks ago, a short play bout or a nursing session would be followed by a long nap. However, now both cubs seem energized by nursing and want to play with Lun Lun or with each other afterwards. Friday night both cubs nursed at the same time, and then they played with their mother and with each other for a long time. Their play bouts are also lasting longer. Instead of tiring out after five or 10 minutes of play, the cubs are playing for 30 to 40 minutes now. I am sure all of you avid PandaCam watchers appreciate the extra activity!
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III

Friday, November 29
Although Lun Lun still chooses to care for one cub at a time, now that the cubs are mobile sometimes she doesn't get to choose. Occasionally while she is nursing one of the cubs, the other cub will find his way over to Lun Lun and start nursing too. Lun Lun doesn't mind this and makes room for both cubs to nurse. Lun Lun is doing wonderfully caring for both cubs and seems to be equally attentive to both of them. She seems to remember which cub she has cared for when because once she returns to the cubs after eating or resting, she usually picks up the cub that she did not attend to the last time. It's been really amazing to see how easily Lun Lun has adjusted to having both cubs together all of the time!
Heather R.
Keeper III, Carnivores

Wednesday, November 27
The cubs usually sleep most of the night, while Lun Lun will get up a few times to eat bamboo. Tuesday night was a little different as it was Lun Lun who wanted to sleep most of the time. The cubs woke up in the middle of the night and started a good ole-fashioned wrestling match that lasted well over 30 minutes. Afterwards, a nap was in order, but only after they each played with a small piece of bamboo they managed to drag into Den 2 from Den 3. Such busy little munchkins! Needless to say they were both hungry this morning!

Current weights: Mei Lun: 6.238 kilograms; Mei Huan: 5.965 kilograms.
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Tuesday, November 26
Lun Lun and the cubs have had access to Dayroom 1 (the exhibit with the hammock) for a few hours during the day for the last week. Mei Lun and Mei Huan have explored as far as the doorway of the dayroom, but neither cub has been brave enough to go any farther on his own, yet. It is understandable that the cubs have seemed hesitant to venture into this strange new world. The dayroom features all new sights, smells, and sounds that would probably be pretty intimidating if you only weighed around 13 pounds like the cubs! Lots of care and consideration goes into introducing any animal to new surroundings, so we have been moving slowly with our panda family. We want Lun Lun and the cubs to be comfortable in their environment, so everything we are doing is aimed at making the dayroom a positive place to be. 

Yesterday afternoon, Lun Lun brought Mei Lun into the dayroom for the first time! Even though Mei Lun was only in the dayroom for a few minutes, it was a valuable learning experience for him. He spent some time exploring and sniffing the mulch before making his way toward a log in the front of the exhibit. When Lun Lun was ready for him to go back to the dens, she picked him up, carried him partway to the shift door, and set him back on the ground. The cubs have had a lot of practice following their mom around, so when she walked through the shift door, he knew it was his cue to follow! This will work for a little while, while the cubs are still interested in following their mom everywhere, but as soon as they find out that there are all sorts of great places to play and nap, they won’t be so eager to listen to her.  
 
Mei Huan has not started exploring the dayroom yet, but it won’t be long before his curiosity wins out.  Be sure to keep an eye out for more cub sightings when you visit the Zoo!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Monday, November 25
Mei Huan has found a new favorite toy …wood wool! Wood wool is basically finely shredded wood, which we use around the Zoo as bedding, enrichment, or baby-proofing material for various animals. You may remember that we put wood wool behind the scale in Lun Lun’s den so that the cubs couldn’t fall back there and get hurt. Now that the cubs are bigger and mobile, we have been able to take some of the wood wool out. We’ve mentioned in a previous update that Mei Huan had shown interest in it just like his mom did, but over the weekend, he had a couple of fun moments playing with it. Several times I watched him pull chunks of wood wool out from behind the scale to wrestle with. On Saturday afternoon, I watched him roll in a pile of it before climbing on top of the huge line of wood wool that we have behind the scale. Since we removed some, the result was a slightly cushiony substrate. Mei Huan navigated his way over the sinking pile of wood wool and into the corner behind the scale. He sat in the corner for a few minutes and tried to bury himself further behind the scale, but he only accomplished a few inches. I guess he gave up because he soon climbed back to the ground and began attacking a loose chunk of wood wool again!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Friday, November 22
Lun Lun has been a phenomenal mother to all of her cubs. But sometimes even rockstar Lun Lun just needs a minute to finish eating her food in peace without her cubs climbing all over her. Last night was a perfect example of this, and you might have seen it on PandaCam: Lun Lun was sitting in Den 3, eating her fresh bamboo when all of a sudden Trouble #2 (Mei Huan) came stumbling over the shift door to see what his mom was up to. At first he entertained himself with the bamboo in the den, chewing on it and biting at it. When that became boring, he scooted over to his mom and started playing with the bamboo she was trying to eat. I guess all this activity reminded him that he was a bit hungry (or maybe he thought his mom would be a better playmate than the bamboo) because he soon abandoned the green plant and tried to climb onto Lun Lun who was still trying to eat. She let him roll off her chest a few times but he kept climbing right back on. A little frustrated, she finally grabbed a giant wad of bamboo leaves, stuck it in her mouth, stood up, and walked all the way to Den 1 where she sat and finished eating her bamboo leaves undisturbed. Mei Huan did not appreciate this and started vocalizing as if to say "Hey! Where are you going?!” I guess he wasn't that hungry and just wanted to play, because he started swatting at the bamboo again instead of running after his mom.
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Thursday, November 21
Mei Lun is becoming quite the inquisitive panda cub. At one point last night, I offered Lun Lun fresh bamboo with biscuits and produce in Den 3. Lun Lun immediately went over and started eating, having just woken up from a lengthy four-hour nap. Mei Lun had woken up from his slumber as Lun Lun passed him on her way to fresh food and decided to follow. Over the shift door ledge he went and explored the bamboo in Den 3 before discovering what his mom was eating. He became very interested in the smell of the leafeater biscuits and even licked them a few times! Then he discovered that some of the biscuits roll on the floor and was entertained for a few minutes as he rolled the biscuit around the den. After the excitement of rolling biscuits wore off, Mei Lun went back to his mom to see if she would play. Unfortunately she was more interested in bamboo, and after awhile he gave up and put himself back to bed in the nestbox in Den 2 where his brother was snoozing away. 
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Wednesday, November 20
Remember how I mentioned not too long ago that since the cubs were more mobile, we had to reinsert some vertical bars so they couldn’t try and play Houdini and explore the keeper hallway on their own? Well, the vertical bars at the rear corners of Den 2 (the nestbox den) have become a new favorite place to play for the twins, mainly Mei Huan. He goes crazy with those bars: biting them, swatting at them, trying to climb them, and then he went and stuck his head through the bars the other night. He’s still small enough that he didn’t get stuck, but once I saw him do it three times in a row, the staff and I agreed that the mesh panels should probably get reattached. The panels still provide visual access to the adjacent dens, but the twins can no longer fit their heads through. Like everything else, this small change didn’t seem to register even a blip on the twins’ radar, but I can only guess that the panels will provide Mei Huan with even more entertainment once he discovers them! On a side note these panels are also in place to provide a “howdy” area where pandas can see each other without having physical access to each other. These were especially important when we “howdied” Lun Lun and Yang Yang during our most recent breeding season! 
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Tuesday, November 19
We have mentioned in previous updates that we are able to identify the cubs when we weigh them and perform vet checks, but recently it has become a little more challenging to identify the cubs from the live feed we watch from our office in the panda building. It is important for us to know who is who so that we can continue to track which cub is nursing and when, among other things. So last night, we trimmed a small patch of fur on Mei Lun's shoulder to help us more easily identify the cubs from a distance. Keeper Jen W. said that Mei Lun did fantastic during his "hair cut." We will still use our other methods of identifying the cubs too since they won't always be in a position for us to be able to see their shoulders, but this will make remotely identifying them easier.
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Monday, November 18
Wild giant pandas live in mountainous areas in central China where the weather stays relatively cool and humid year-round (or at least much cooler than our weather here in Atlanta). Here at the Zoo, we try to mimic that climate as closely as possible, which means that the giant panda building is typically one of the coolest buildings on grounds. 

For the last four months, we have kept the nursery side of the panda building warmer than normal to ensure that the cubs were warm enough. In the very beginning, the nursery was around 20°F hotter than the adult side of the building because the cubs initially lacked their thick fur coats and the ability to thermoregulate. As the cubs grew and developed into the fuzzy balls of fluff they are now, it became less of a necessity for us to regulate the building temperature. We have been gradually decreasing the nursery temperature back to "normal" (around 67°F) over the last couple of months to give the cubs time to acclimate to the climate that we maintain for all of our giant pandas. They have adjusted well to the cooler building temperature. Now when the keepers go to get fresh bamboo out of the cooler for Lun Lun, we don't notice a temperature difference between the two sides of the building anymore!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 

Friday, November 15
I am sure everyone saw on PandaCam that we gave both cubs to Lun Lun on Wednesday morning. Lun Lun handled the situation extremely well, as we predicted she would. Nothing has really changed except that we do not have a cub in the nursery! Lun Lun is caring for both cubs equally and as diligently as she was when she just had one at a time. Right now she still only cares for one cub at a time; we have not seen her nurse or hold both cubs at once. We are continuing to monitoring them closely and are making note of which cub she is caring for and what she is doing with him anytime she interacts with one of them. We are still weighing the cubs after they nurse to ensure they are continuing to gain weight. So far, the transition has gone very smoothly!
Heather R
Keeper III, Carnivores

Thursday, November 14
A lot of people ask me how we tell the cubs apart. At first glance they probably look identical, but once you start studying both cubs for a moment you start to notice small physical differences. These differences have changed a lot as the cubs have grown in just four months. At first, and for the longest time, Mei Lun was the smaller of the two cubs. He also had a thinner saddle across his back. But then the cubs started to grow, and more than once Mei Lun has been heavier than his brother. The saddles look pretty similar now as well, but for a short time Mei Huan's saddle actually looked thinner! It was probably all due to how their fur was growing in, but we quickly realized we needed to discover new ways to tell them apart.

From the moment their fur grew in, Mei Lun's black fur has always had a brownish hue to me. It is definitely lighter in color compared to his brother. This is very obvious when they're side by side. Mei Lun also has a longer muzzle, with a pointy head whereas Mei Huan has a rounder head and a shorter muzzle. Mei Lun's nose started to turn black sooner than Mei Huan's, which I thought was pretty interesting considering Mei Huan has always been a few days ahead of his brother developmentally. Currently, Mei Lun's nose is almost completely black while Mei Huan still has the pink racing stripe down the middle, but even that's starting to fade to black. Mei Huan's black eye patches also curl up at the end more than Mei Lun's do.
 
These are just a few of the characteristics the keepers and vets staff use to identify which cub they're looking at. But these are by no means concrete identifiers. As both cubs grow, so will their physical features, and pretty soon we're going to have to find a whole new way of identifying each cub. However, I'm pretty sure that Mei Lun will always have a slightly longer muzzle than his brother. Whether any of the other physical features change is the biggest mystery and one of the coolest parts of watching these munchkins grow up!
Jen W
Keeper I, Carnivores

Tuesday, November 12
Well, we knew it wouldn’t be long before Mei Lun followed in his brother’s footsteps! Yesterday afternoon Mei Lun made his first successful climb over the shift door and into one of Lun Lun’s other dens. Even though Mei Lun has been slower than his brother in developing his walking and climbing skills, he is ahead of his brother in his bathroom skills.

As gross as it may sound, poop is a very important part of a zookeepers’ day-to-day job. An animal’s bathroom habits can tell us a lot about its health, and in this case, development. Panda cubs cannot urinate or defecate on their own until they are around 4 months old.  Up until now, either Lun Lun or the nursery keepers would help the cubs with this, frequently stimulating them to eliminate waste. Over the last week, Mei Lun has occasionally urinated or defecated on his own. We still see Lun Lun stimulating the cubs a few times a day. We will also continue to stimulate the cubs until they are consistently eliminating on their own. Pretty soon that will no longer be necessary – our little boys are growing up!
Jennifer A
Keeper I, Mammals
 

Monday, November 11
Now that the cubs are so mobile, weighing them is really difficult! They will not stay still long enough for the scale to register a weight. Sometimes it can take over five minutes just to get an accurate weight! We still weigh them frequently to make sure they are eating well and growing as they should.  Who knew such a simple task could be such a challenge? Speaking of weights:  Currently Mei Lun weighs 5.3 kilograms, and Mei Huan weighs 5.2 kilograms.
Heather R.
Keeper III, Carnivores

Thursday, November 7
With the twins getting bigger and showing more interest in play sessions, Lun Lun in dividing her time accordingly. She used to split her time between eating, nursing, and catching naps when able to. This was because the cubs were very small and needed to nurse more often. Now that they're bigger and don't nurse as often (they have longer nursing sessions, but the frequency has gone down), Lun Lun has more time to nap and eat. She's also allocating more time to play and bond with her little ones. This is important behavior as it helps the cubs build muscle, learn to coordinate their movements, bond with mother, and learn how to defend themselves and interact with other giant pandas once they are weaned and enter the world without Mom. Our cubs will never be released into the wild because they'd have a hard time un-learning that humans equal delicious food, and they’d have a hard time knowing how to navigate the wild on their own. But their wild counterparts definitely use lessons learned during play sessions every day as adults. Play sessions between a mother and her male offspring tend to be a little rougher and this makes sense as in the wild, where male giant pandas would compete with each other for breeding rights with a female, for example. Our little tykes are nowhere near that stage of their life. They're still learning how to get the upper hand when playing with Mom, which is hard when Mom weighs over 20 times more than you do!
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores
 
Wednesday, November 6
Now that the twins have figured out that there's more to life than obeying mom and staying in the nestbox, we've had to cub-proof the dens a bit. Two of the dens have a section of vertical bars used as one of our many training locations with our adult pandas. Some of the bars can be removed (as they have been for months) to facilitate easier training sessions (such as voluntary ultrasound with Lun Lun). The gaps between the bars are several inches wide.  These gaps are wide enough that we can stick our arms through, and they’re also wide enough that our adult pandas could easily stick a paw out and swat at you if you're not paying attention (which is why you'll never see one of us standing by those bars with our back to it if a panda has access). Thankfully our bears are pretty good and rarely misbehave in this sense. Panda cubs, however, are under the illusion that they can do whatever they want! Since they are more mobile and could squeeze their cute little bodies through these bars, we've decided to put the other bars back in place, thus reducing the gaps to just a couple of inches. These boys have plenty of space to roam about and explore, so I don't feel bad about thwarting their efforts. In the rear corners of Den 2 (the nestbox den) there are vertical bars acting as “windows” between the adjacent dens. We aren't too worried about those bars right now, as the boys first need to figure out how to haul themselves up onto the ledge before they can squeeze through the bars. I'd say we've got some time before they figure that out. 
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores
 
 
Tuesday, November 5
We've mentioned in previous updates that the cubs are becoming more active. I witnessed this firsthand overnight. It seemed like anytime I picked the cubs up, they turned into Energizer Bunnies! They are very playful right now, and anything makes a great toy! When they're in one of their playful moods, it can be very difficult to take their temperatures, weigh them, and stimulate them. Usually we do all three of these things at the same time because it's quicker, and we can get the cubs where they need to go, whether it's to Lun Lun or into the playpen. But when they're playful, they would rather crawl around and swat at whatever is in their path than lie or sit calmly until we're finished. Last night they gave me just enough time to do one thing at a time. In between, I had to put them in the playpen and wait for them to fall asleep. It was a pretty cute challenge, and I managed to get weights for both cubs first thing this morning. Mei Lun weighs 4.94 kilograms, and Mei Huan weighs 5.2 kilograms.
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 
 
Monday, November 4
Lun Lun has been carrying the cubs to her other dens much more frequently lately, so the cubs are getting more opportunities to explore their surroundings. Recently, she has started taking the cubs onto the scale in one of her dens. Yesterday afternoon, she took Mei Lun onto the scale to rest while she anointed herself with the wood wool that we’re using to cub-proof the area behind the scale. She didn’t get much time to enjoy herself, though, because Mei Lun slipped off the scale and fell onto the floor.  The scale isn’t very far off the ground, and he wasn’t fazed by it at all. Plus, he got some playtime with Mom out of it!
 
Later in the evening, nursery keeper Jen watched Mei Lun climb out of the nest box for the first time. He’s been working on it for days, and he finally succeeded! From the sounds of it, Lun Lun seemed a little surprised to walk back into the den and find Mei Lun outside of the nest box. Pretty soon, she’ll have a difficult time getting away from her cubs for naptime and meals because they'll follow her everywhere!
 
All of these adventures must have worn Mei Lun out because he slept soundly for my entire shift. 
Jennifer Andrew
Keeper I, Mammals
 
Friday, November 1
We get a lot of questions from PandaCam viewers about Lun Lun’s interactions with the cubs. It’s normal for giant panda mothers to carry their cubs in their mouths to move them. Lun Lun does this gently (for a giant panda) and she will not hurt the cub. Also, the cubs are big and tough now and can handle some jostling. Behavior that might look rough to you is perfectly acceptable to a giant panda. This will become more apparent when Lun Lun and the cubs start play fighting in another month or two. They can be very rough with each other, but no one will get hurt. Wild giant panda mothers usually move their cubs to different den sites. This serves a few purposes, such as reducing the chance that predators will find the cub, reducing the chance of parasites infesting the den, and allowing the mother to forage in a different area for bamboo. So, it’s normal for a captive female to have the urge to move her cub too. Lun Lun sometimes carries a cub into an adjacent den, as you have seen. Occasionally, she carries the cub longer and doesn’t settle down with it right away. That’s ok and normal. 
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals
 
Thursday, October 31
Wednesday night was a typical night in PandaLand supplemented with a few funny and cute moments. Before my shift started, nursery keeper Heather told me Mei Huan managed to overcome the biggest obstacle he’s had to face to date: the nestbox walls! He managed to climb over it, which took a lot of effort. This was caught on PandaCam so you might have seen it live! This took a lot of energy out of Mei Huan, so once he was on the other side he needed a bit of a break to rest and recoup some energy! It’s only a matter of days before Mei Lun tackles The Great Wall of Den 2 as well! 
 
Later in the evening, Lun Lun decided to have a little play session all by herself. She decided to pull up all of the wood wool we stuffed around the elevated scale in Den 1 (to prevent the cubs from falling back there and getting stuck). She sometimes does this in an effort to get our attention because she wants something. This is not behavior we want to reinforce so we always ignore it and will go see what she wants once she abandons the wood wool and does something else. However this time I think she just wanted to entertain herself because next thing I knew she was rolling around in the wood wool anointing herself with it! When giant pandas anoint themselves, they’ll rub whatever it is (usually something that smells really interesting) all over their heads. Our pandas typically do this with the various scents we offer for enrichment. Their favorites are Listerine, Tabasco sauce, vanilla extract and cinnamon. The pandas don’t ingest anything; they simply want to get the smell all over themselves.  It’s sort of similar to a cat getting into catnip; it doesn’t last long but they really get into it! We’re not sure why pandas do this, but they seem to enjoy it! Once I realized what Lun Lun was doing, I snuck in there and quickly snapped a few shots, catching her in the act. Oddly enough the wood wool did not have any scents on it, so I wonder what she was smelling!
 
After that I gave Lun Lun a feeder toy: a thick piece of bamboo with holes cut in it. In each hole were some of her leafeater biscuits. She really enjoyed manipulating the feeder toy, trying to get the biscuits out. The bamboo is pretty thick, but she still managed to crack it open in places with her powerful jaw! She also made a lot of noise trying to get the biscuits out (dropping the feeder toy on the ground while manipulating it, rolling it around on the ground, etc), but thankfully all of the other pandas in the building didn't mind too much. This is a good thing because she was kept busy with this feeder toy for over half an hour!
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores
 
Wednesday, October 30
Now that the cubs are older, we are getting ready for another change in staffing. For the last three and a half months we have had the privilege of having Deng Tao, a colleague from the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, with us sharing his expertise on raising twin panda cubs. You may remember that he landed in Atlanta on July 15, came straight to the Zoo, and was here for the birth of the twins. For the next month, Deng Tao pretty much lived in the panda building. At night he slept in a den next to Lun Lun, and he only left the building to shower or occasionally go out for a meal. After the cubs reached a month old, he started leaving the building during the day to sleep and spent nights working at the Zoo with us. He hasn't taken a day off since he arrived. We have learned a lot from him in the last three and a half months – from cub-swapping techniques to stimulating cubs and even how to make cub vocalizations!
 
 
It has been an honor working with Deng Tao and learning from him, but in just a few days he will head home. I know that he is very excited to see his family and get back to the pandas he works with in Chengdu. Thank you for your dedication to Lun Lun and her cubs, Deng. We'll miss you!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 
Tuesday, October 29
A few of our PandaCam viewers have asked when we can expect Mei Lun and Mei Huan to start urinating and defecating on their own. They’ll start to do this on their own at around 4 months of age. This is when giant panda cubs are walking, and it marks the end of the den phase. Exciting times ahead! 
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals
 
Monday, October 28
Both cubs are getting really good at standing on all four legs. Their movements are still pretty clumsy, and sometimes when they try to walk they appear to be making frog-like or inchworm-like movements all around the nest box. Both cubs are coordinated enough to follow the direction Lun Lun goes in when she leaves them in the nest box, but those pesky divider walls are still just a bit too much for the cubs to handle. Mei Huan has discovered that he can prop his head on the wall to watch Lun Lun, and I caught him with a paw over the side the other day as well.  We’ve all known it for a while, but he is going to be such a handful once he starts walking!  Mei Lun is practicing a lot too.  He has been very active lately, and although he hasn’t quite caught up with his brother, he gets better every day. It won’t be long before he is causing all kinds of trouble too. I hope Lun Lun is ready for her adorable twin terrors because things are about to get much cuter around here!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 

Friday, October 25
Right now, Mei Huan initiates most of the play sessions with his brother. Mei Lun reciprocates, but always seems to be sleepy when Mei Huan is playful. I am sure this will soon change! I wonder if this is because all along Mei Huan seems to be a few days ahead of Mei Lun developmentally. The cubs’ play bouts are still clumsy and uncoordinated, but it is still cute to watch!
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III
 
Thursday, October 24
Even if I can't see their bodies or haven't checked the log book, I can always tell which cub I have when I pick them up during a cub swap. Mei Lun (Cub A) will usually curl into a cute little panda ball when I pick him up. He generally doesn't care how he's picked up as long as he's fully supported. His brother, Mei Huan, is usually squirmier and prefers (at least for me) to be held sternally, with his chest facing the ground. If you have Mei Huan on his back when you pick him up, he quickly starts waving his paws around in an effort to flip himself over in your arms. Since they haven't started climbing, those nails of theirs are pretty sharp, and we are all pretty quick to reposition an active cub to avoid having our skin raked by those admittedly adorable but needle-sharp claws!  They won't draw blood, but they leave nice little raised marks on your skin that'll take awhile to fade.
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores
 
 
Wednesday, October 23
Tuesday night was a quiet night in the building – almost like the calm before a storm. But a good storm! This morning we learned that out little fuzzballs now have official names: Mei Lun (Cub A) and Mei Huan (Cub B). The morning was filled with more cameras than I've seen in awhile as Good Morning America was here at Zoo Atlanta shooting live footage of the staff/guests that were present for the naming celebration as well as live shots of the cubs! The stars were more interested in being squirmy cubs than in getting any camera time. Mei Huan wanted to use his brother as a pillow while Mei Lun had other ideas.
 
We also were treated with guest speakers such as The Honorable Mayor Kasim Reed! I was lucky enough to participate in a Q&A with the local school children that was also a lot of fun.  
 
I'm sure all of the excitement will leave some pretty sleepy cubs tonight when I come back for my next shift. And don't worry about Lun Lun! She was quite happy to have some kid-free mommy time eating bamboo at her leisure. She even caught in some beauty rest (like she needs it!).
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores
 

Tuesday, October 22 (Day 99)
One of the most common questions that we receive is why we don’t allow Lun Lun to care for both of her cubs at the same time.  At birth, giant panda cubs are highly altricial (under-developed) compared to other mammals. Because of this, they require intensive maternal care. It’s difficult for a mother to provide this care for more than one cub simultaneously. The best method to ensure that both cubs will survive is to alternate the cubs with the mother for the first few months. This technique was first developed by our colleagues at the Chengdu Zoo. They used it for the first time in 1990 and as a result had the first pair of twins born in captivity to survive. In the past, one or both cubs died. One of those twin cubs was Ya Ya who is the mother of our male Yang Yang.
 
A newborn giant panda cub is about 900 times smaller than its mother, weighing only three to five ounces at birth. The cub is unable to regulate its own body temperature for the first few weeks of its life, and it also lacks the coat of fur needed to help keep it warm. This means that it is entirely dependent on its mother for survival.  During the first few weeks of life, a giant panda mother will spend approximately 80% of her time holding her cub.  In addition to keeping her cub warm, she also has to groom it and nurse it. In the early stages, a mother needs to position her cub near a nipple to nurse.  The cub need some help from its mom to get in the right position to nurse until it is able to walk, which happens when it is around four months old. After a cub is able to walk, the job gets much easier for mom (if you don't count all that playtime!).  
 
This is why we have not given both of the cubs to Lun Lun yet. Even though she has proven that she is a fantastic mother, we will not introduce both cubs to Lun Lun at the same time until they are both able to walk. Very soon Lun Lun will not need as much help from us anymore. Cub A and Cub B are getting closer to walking every day.   We have already seen Cub B take his first steps. It won’t be long now before the day will come when we will be able to give both cubs to Lun Lun. It is a day that all of us at the Zoo have been looking forward to since the cubs were born!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 
Monday, October 21
The cubs are becoming more and more active every day. They still sleep for long periods of time, but less than they used to do. In between nursing and napping, the cubs are scooting around the nest box (or the "playpen" box) and practicing getting their legs underneath them. They are also learning how to play. I have seen Lun Lun initiate short play bouts with each cub -- she gently nibbles them while they swat at her and thrash around trying to grab her or bite at her. Also, when the cubs are together in the "playpen" box, they have started to play together. As I said, they are still learning how to coordinate their movements, so everything is in slow-motion and clumsy, but they paw swat, bite and try to grab each other or climb on top of each other. It's very cute!
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III
 
 
Friday, October 18
We have been able to see little ridges on the cubs' gums for a while now that indicate where the baby teeth would eventually erupt. On Monday evening, I thought Cub A's gums seemed a little whiter in that area, but I couldn't see any teeth yet. So I was excited to come to work today after my weekend off and find out that his canine teeth have begun to come in. In fact, both cubs now have a few teeny, tiny pearly whites! The cubs' canine teeth in both their upper and lower jaws are starting to come in. Soon, we will be able to see the rest of the cubs' other teeth too!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 
Thursday, October 17
The twins’ 100 Day Celebration is right around the corner! The past couple of weeks have flown by, and I’m eagerly waiting to find out what I’ll be calling the cubs from now on. Last night was a peaceful night, filled with happy pandas snoozing the night away. Not all nights are like this. Sometimes the cubs and/or mom are fussy for various reasons (wanting more milk, more bamboo, etc).Satiating a mother panda with one cub is hard enough – having twins makes Lun Lun’s stomach more like Mary Poppins’ infamous carpetbag: endless! So to have her take long naps means she was able to fill her belly up with delicious bamboo. This not only translates to well-fed and happy cubs, but animals can have attitudes as well as humans, and a grumpy Lun Lun is a force you don’t want to reckon with! Luckily Lun’s a fairly laid-back gal who’s quite content as long as she has some fresh bamboo and a cub with her (though she doesn’t mind it when she gets a break from her motherly duties and gets a little mommy time!).
Jen W.
Keeper I, Carnivores
 
 
Wednesday, October 16
As many of us have mentioned, Cub A has always been the most vocal of the twins. Early on, everyone said that he was going to be a handful later on, but I always said thTuesday, December 31

As Jen has mentioned, we have started training with the cubs. Training animals to shift from one area to another is a fundamental behavior for our pandas. We have to be able to move them from den to dayroom or exhibit and back again in order to feed them and clean up after them. The cubs always start learning this behavior from Lun Lun -- by following her -- and we keepers reinforce it with praise. Some of you may remember that we trained Lun Lun to retrieve her cubs. We started this with Mei Lan, and by the time Xi Lan was going on exhibit with her, she had perfected it. She still remembers this behavior, and we have been asking it her to do it with Mei Lun and Mei Huan as well (she does know to get both cubs even if we just give her the cue words once!). Now Lun Lun is anticipating that we will ask her to retrieve the cubs. Friday morning while I was setting up her dayroom with bamboo, she gathered both cubs into the den closest to the dayroom and waited for me to shift her into the exhibit. Lun Lun inspired me, so I decided to try to see if the cubs would shift onto exhibit with her. They followed her all the way to the exhibit door, but the hallway was a much more interesting place to play and explore, so they did not follow her out into the dayroom. I persisted (Lun Lun was too busy eating fresh bamboo to help me by retrieving them). After approximately five minutes of the girls running in and out and playing in the doorway, both cubs went out into the dayroom!  It was very exciting and was a great first step!
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III