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Panda Cub Updates (Decemember - July 2011)

Friday, December 30
We offer the giant pandas a variety of enrichment to keep their days interesting.  One such type of enrichment is frozen produce - usually a frozen apple, banana or sweet potato.  Po has gotten little pieces of frozen banana before, but this time we decided to give him a good chunk of a frozen banana.  He spent over 30 minutes in the moat of habitat 1 (his favorite place out there) alternating which paw was holding the cold treat as he sucked on the yumminess inside.  He teeth aren't big enough and his bite strength not strong enough to chomp down on the frozen fruit like his parents and big brother. So, he just resorted to the baby panda way of eating and sucked on it until he consumed it all!  Too cute.
Jen
Keeper I, Carnivores

Wednesday, December 28
The pandas are doing well and sure do appreciate it finally becoming colder.  In the dayrooms we gave the pandas Christmas trees to enjoy, and it was pretty humorous to watch.  Kenn and I managed to hang two pieces of a Christmas tree from the structure in Dayroom 2 for Xi Lan yesterday morning.  I was hoping that he would destroy them in his turbo destructive way.  We let him into the dayroom and he walked really close to one and then never went near them again.  That is until the afternoon when he finally noticed them.  He was climbing to the very top of the structure and grabbing the tree and then trying to hang from it.  When I went in to clean up for the evening, I had to completely take the tree down so I could hang it correctly.  He had wound the chain three times around the structure.  Silly boy!  I am glad he had a great time with his Christmas tree.  Happy Holidays!
Sheena
Keeper I, Giant Panda

 

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Friday, December 23
It's almost Christmas time! I'm so excited! I have to keep reminding myself that it's just another day to a panda, though. You can really tell that I love working with pandas when I get excited over poop. Let me backtrack here for a second. We count, weigh, and categorize panda feces on a daily basis to evaluate how well the pandas are eating (and we do the same with bamboo!). In terms of categorizing, we rate the feces on a scale of 1 to 5 based on its consistency. For example, yellowish, woody looking feces are rated as a 1; those are made up of culm material. Feces rated as a 2 are green like avocados and contain mostly leafy material. Pandas generally eat either the bamboo culm or the leaves in one sitting, and so it makes sense that the pandas' feces would be grouped similarly. For Po, we find little brown baby panda feces that come from all the milk he consumes. They are smelly, and look a lot like dog feces (too much info? Haha!). But since our little guy is starting to eat more bamboo leaves, we've started seeing little Po-sized 2's!! I know this might not be cute to many people other than the staff who works with pandas, but I can't get over how adorable it is that Po is acting more and more like an adult panda every day!! He's growing up so fast!
Jen
Keeper I, Carnivores

Thursday, December 22
I wanted to share some cute panda illustrations sent in from one of our panda fans. Happy Holidays to all!
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A.L. Waterbury
Previous Start Over Next

Wednesday, December 21
So it has been quite a while since I have worked in the panda area, and the word is that Po has become great at shifting inside when we need him to. When Po was younger he was highly unreliable about shifting in, especially when he was out in habitat 1 and down in the moat. Now he will come in when we call him, but it does take him a minute or two to come. Other news about Po is that he is now starting to eat bamboo on his own, which is very cute to watch.
Katie
Mammals Keeper I

Monday, December 19
I am sad to say that I am leaving Zoo Atlanta to look for new adventures. I have had a wonderful experience with all of my coworkers and many memorable times with all the animals with which I have had the opportunity to work. Here is a little montage of my panda experiences. In  my first week working with giant pandas, Yang Yang was the first panda to welcome me with his amazing personality. He was given access to an inside hallway where we attached a large swing for him. The instant he saw it he spent about 20 minutes climbing and swinging on it. Lun Lun and Po were a little more distant and it took me a lot longer to get to know them. However, everyone can see that Lun Lun is a great mom and Po is a handful! I have watched little Po grow so much in the last six months. We used to watch him carry around the bamboo, not quite sure what to do with it and now he is chowing down eating whole pieces at a time. Xi Lan has made his mark in my life everyday! He is a wonderful bear. He always gives me something to laugh at and watch in amazement as he figures out how to grow up panda! I look forward to reading all the updates to come and checking up on these fantastic animals! Thanks for all of the sweet and silly memories.
Sheena
Keeper I

Friday, December 16
Just like Rebecca, I had hoped for some excitement during my data collection session that I could share with you in this update. And just like Rebecca, I didn’t succeed! I didn’t even see Po the entire time I was watching, so I assumed that he was in his favorite spot in the moat.  Although Lun was fairly active, I found it was more interesting to watch Yang in the off-exhibit habitat. I hadn’t looked closely at that area since we’ve started regularly putting the pandas in it and I was surprised to see how much of the naturally-growing bamboo had been consumed. Although the space isn’t as pretty as it once was, it’s nice to know that the pandas have enjoyed the bamboo that they’ve come across in that exhibit. Fortunately for them, the keepers are still able to get them fresh bamboo from the cooler, just like they can in any other enclosure at the Zoo. And for the record, Yang ate most of the time, except when he wandered over to the pool for a drink of water.   
Megan Wilson, Ph.D.
Assistant Curator of Mammals

Wednesday, December 14
I collected data on Po and Lun Lun on Monday and was hoping to see something interesting to include in my update this week. No such luck. Po spent almost the entire time sleeping on the grate in the moat. As you know from previous updates, this is one of his favorite spots and was also one of Xi Lan’s favorite spots when he was a cub. Lun Lun spent her time feeding on bamboo. She continues to have a voracious appetite, which is understandable given she is nursing a 25 kg cub. Po is eating more and more bamboo and likes his biscuits a lot, but he still nurses and receives most of his calories from his mother’s milk. Lun Lun did go down into the moat to check on Po while I was watching. She nudged him and he woke up for a minute, but as soon as his mom left he curled up and went back to sleep. At least the data collection session was an accurate representation of the pandas’ behavior. They do spend most of their time eating and sleeping.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Monday, December 12
I hate the cold. I've been viciously fighting off all of the winter viruses that have been circling around Atlanta lately and so far it's working (did I just jinx myself?). The pandas, however, couldn't be happier with this chilly weather! While I'm bundled up in more layers than I can count, they're outside munching on their bamboo in utter bliss at temperatures they were built for. Actually, they're built for even colder temperatures that I hope Atlanta gets to avoid this winter! But I have to admit that it's nice to be able to let all of the bears outside in the fresh air for the whole day. It's especially fun to watch Po outside for multiple days in a row, snoozing...annoying his mom...being cute...being a typical clumsy cub...snoozing some more. I also have to admit that there are certain advantages to the temperatures being low enough that all the pandas can stay outside all day. That is that we can turn off the AC in the building for a few hours, so that we can attempt to stay warm! But as always, that A/C has to come back on to keep the building a panda-comfortable 65 degrees when we leave for the night. I am definitely learning the art of layering as a panda keeper!
Jen
Keeper I, Carnivores

Friday, December 9
Po is growing up so quickly. He is now close to 55 lbs.  He is also learning a lot from his mom. He has decided to spend more time eating bamboo and searching for biscuits than sleeping. It is adorable to watch him sit next to Lun Lun and try to share the same piece of bamboo with her. He is also learning that when we ask him to shift inside a different area that he will be rewarded with delicious biscuits. The other morning I asked Lun Lun to shift  inside, so that I could clean up her habitat from overnight. Usually, we just work around sleepy Po panda. When I checked on him he was perfectly at rest on the top of his structure. So, I started gathering all the supplies I needed to start cleaning up. As I was beginning to enter the dayroom I noticed Po was not on top of the structure anymore but patiently waiting at the shift door to come inside. PERFECT! I was able to open the door and he shifted in for some breakfast biscuits. The rest of the day he impressed us with his motivation for biscuits and continued to shift inside almost every time we asked. Thanks Po!
Sheena
Keeper I, Carnivores

Wednesday, December 7
I am not scheduled all that often to work the giant panda routine, but the last few times up there has started off with a scare. For years, I have come in at 7:00 and performed a live check on the pandas first thing. During this time, we check on all the pandas to make sure they are all alive, well and accounted for. The last several times, I have come in as usual and performed the check. I initially counted only three pandas instead of four. Looking in all the corners and behind all the bamboo still did not result in locating the other panda. The smallest one as a matter of fact. Before panic could set in and the alarm could be sounded, there was only one option left. Look up! Upon looking up, I spotted Po at the top of the den's mesh, wedged in a corner, lurking in the shadows, simply staring at me. I don't know if he was trying to hide or if he just likes being on top of the world in the morning. I think it is a little of both. Once he knew he was discovered, he came right down the mesh, and assumed his ready position for his morning biscuits, where he was joined by his mom. With everyone accounted for the crisis was averted and all was well again in the giant panda building.
Kenn
Lead Keeper of Carnivores

Friday, December 2
Things will be a little different around PandaLand for the next few days. We're getting a new roof installed over the viewing hut and dayrooms. Certain precautions have been taken to avoid any unnecessary accidents/issues with our lovable pandas. Both dayroom viewing and the first outdoor habitat have been blocked off from guests and the pandas while this project is underway, because we don’t want to expose guests or the pandas to any debris from the roofing project. The pandas can be sensitive to anything out of the ordinary and we don't want them getting upset by all of the loud noise. As a result, we are only housing them inside the building and in habitats 2 and 3 (the latter of which is an off-exhibit area inaccessible to guests) during the day. We're currently rotating Xi Lan and Yang Yang between the outdoor yards while keeping Lun Lun and baby Po inside because mom can be sensitive and protective and Po doesn't shift reliably, yet.
 
Ironically, so far, big ole dad Yang Yang is the only one who seems really upset by any of this. He hates the noise! We had him in habitat 3 - as far from the building as we can get a panda - and he was pretty upset with everything going on. He's sensitive. We were able to get him to calm down eventually and he spent the afternoon resting. Hopefully tomorrow will be better!

While this project is underway, one panda can be viewed each day in habitat 2, which is the exhibit farthest from the dayrooms. We expect all of panda viewing to be open as normal by Tuesday December 6.
Jen
Keeper I, Carnivores

Monday, November 28
The weather this fall has been crazy! It’s been going back and forth between really cold and mildly warm weather and now the rain! The pandas have thoroughly enjoyed the weather since it hasn't been too warm … until now. Pandas don't mind the occasional sprinkle, but if it's steady or heavy rain they want to come in and eat their bamboo where it's dry. If it's just a light drizzle you can usually see them drag a piece of bamboo into the caves in their outdoor exhibit where they can eat and wait the rain out. But the rain has been too heavy the past couple of days, and so everyone has been inside. In the wild, cold and rain are pretty common for giant pandas and they are well adapted to handle it. But our pandas are spoiled and love their climate-controlled environment. I don't blame them – so do I!
Jen
Keeper I, Carnivores

Friday, November 25
Last week while Jen and I were cleaning out some broken bamboo and debris from the off-exhibit habitat, I noticed that an eleagnus plant growing in there was looking a bit worse for wear with several broken branches. Yesterday I found out why. As I was collecting behavioral data on Po, I happened to spot Xi Lan on the camera. He was in the off-exhibit habitat standing in an odd position. I zoomed in on him and he was climbing the eleagnus! He wasn’t getting very far because it is not a large plant and the branches couldn’t support his weight, but for a while he kept trying to climb up as far as possible.  After he fell out of the branches a few times, he gave up and decided his time was better spent foraging for bamboo.
Heather
Carnivore Keeper II

Monday, November 21
For those who don't know, we have a third off-exhibit outdoor habitat where we are able to let our pandas be pandas! It's really cool to get to see behaviors we would truly see in the wild. Lun Lun and Po don't get to go over there yet because Po isn't big enough. This fall is the first time Xi Lan has gotten to go over there and he loves the opportunity to explore something new. Yang Yang remembers this yard and loves being in there ... so much so that he has created a mess along with his 3-year-old son Xi Lan! Instead of breaking the bamboo stalk (culm) in half, the boys have been simply bending the tall bamboo down so they can get to the yummy leaves. If you or I were to attempt this, nothing would happen - we're not strong enough; but the pandas bend and twist the bamboo like it's no thicker than a twig! Unfortunately with the tall bamboo forest growing in there, and the boys' love of bending the culm, it's become a disaster zone! They've woven the bamboo up, down, around, over, under and at one point managed to make a knot around the untouched bamboo as they would bend a plant down and then walk 3 feet over to eat it, and then decide that they want to finish eating it 5 feet over in the opposite direction. Repeat this action all day and you can start to get an idea of how it looks! To be honest I'm not sure how they manage to navigate within the little bamboo forest because I have a hard time getting in there to clean up! I know they love being out there and while I'm fighting with the tangled mess, I just keep telling myself that.  If only we could teach them to clean up after themselves ...
Jen
Keeper I, Carnivores

Friday, November 18
Oh, being a mother panda definitely has its tiresome moments. Lun Lun was trying to take a nap all day and baby Po wanted to play. It seemed like every time Lun Lun settled down for a little siesta, Po was there ready to pounce on her. She tried to ignore him, but he is pretty difficult to avoid when he wants to play with her. She stopped for a rest in the doorway that connects the two dayrooms, and Po kept running through the door and climbing right over her.  She then decided to give in and play with him. She wrestled around with him for about 15 minutes until Po decided to call it quits and climb to the top of his structure for a nap. I thought Lun Lun was going to take this opportunity to return to the shift door and try her nap again. Well, she did go for a nap. She just chose the same spot as her darling son. She climbed all the way onto the structure and draped herself over Po for a nice long 30 minute nap. Thankfully, Po didn’t seem to mind. It was a cute half an hour to watch mom and baby cuddled up. 
Sheena Braman
Keeper I, Giant Panda

Wednesday, November 16
One thing we have found out with Po is that he likes the outdoor enclosures. For some reason all of the panda cubs love to sleep on the grates for the storm drain in the bottom of the exhibit moats. To each, his own, I guess. Anyway, with the lovely weather we have been having here lately, along with the time change, the keepers have been having a rough time getting Po to shift inside for the evening. He seems to be winding down from a long, hard day just around that time and the grates are his favorite place to be. The keepers normally will call to him and offer him biscuits or other treats to get him to come in for the night. If this doesn't work, we will send Lun Lun out into the yard to get him. Believe it or not, she will usually get him inside for us. Tonight, I thought it was going to be one of those days. Everything was pointing to another repeat performance by Po. I wasn't counting on Mother Nature lending a helping hand. Right when Lun Lun and Po were supposed to come in, the sky opened up and the rain began to fall. I think Po set a new giant panda land speed record when he launched himself out of the moat and ran over to the shift door to avoid the rain. I promptly let Po and his mom into their night quarters where bamboo and biscuits were waiting. Po didn't seem too shaken by the ordeal, as he was passed out napping within 10 minutes. 
Kenn
Lead Keeper of Carnivores

Monday, November 14
Xi Lan had some exciting days this week. We began to use an off exhibit outdoor area to provide the boys with a little extra space. Yang Yang has been in this yard before, but it was brand new to Xi Lan. I have known Xi Lan to be the most adventurous of pandas and when we showed him the new yard for the first time he did not let me down. He walked right up the new hallway and entered into the yard.  He walked around and smelled all the fresh bamboo growing in the yard for a long time before settling down and trying to figure out how to eat it. He has always been provided with precut bamboo, so trying to eat it while it is still in the ground was a new experience. His technique is pretty unique. He grabs a piece of bamboo and then lays completely flat on his back and bends the bamboo to the ground. Then with his back and front paws he holds onto it and tries to eat the leaves. He manages ok except for when he lets the piece slip through his paws. This ends up surprising him and he has to search for a new piece. I’m sure in a few days he will figure out how to snap the bamboo off and eat it just like Yang Yang. 
Sheena
Keeper I, Giant Panda

 

 

Mei Lan

Chengdu Research Base

Friday, November 11
I was in China the last week of October for a giant panda meeting. At the end of the trip I visited the Chengdu Research Base and saw Mei Lan! He is doing really well! He was sleeping when I arrived, but his keepers tossed some fresh bamboo to him and called him to wake him up (he speaks Chinese now =) and that did the trick. He sat and ate bamboo for a long time while I took pictures and just enjoyed watching him. He looks great and seemed very content to me. His keepers said he’s eating well and is healthy. He is in the same enclosure that he’s been in since he was released from quarantine. All of the enclosures at the Research Base are nice, but Mei Lan’s area is especially large and lush.

It was interesting to see how popular he is with visitors. When visitors were told that the panda they were looking at was Mei Lan, most of them knew who he was and that he was born in the United States. When the Research Base staff told guests that I had known Mei Lan since he was born, I became pretty popular too and was asked to pose for pictures with some of the visitors. This reminded me of my old days in China. When I was collecting behavioral data at the Research Base and Chengdu Zoo for my dissertation, I used to be asked to be in pictures with Chinese visitors frequently. I think I appear in the photo albums of many Chinese families.

I spent most of 1997-1999 at the Chengdu Research Base and the Chengdu Zoo collecting data for my dissertation and other behavioral studies on the pandas. From 2000-2007 I went to Chengdu 1-3 times a year to train keepers and graduate students for data collection on studies. Chengdu was like a second home to me. Then I had a baby and took a break from traveling to China.

It had been four years since I’d been to Chengdu. It was great to go back and see all the changes in the city and at the Research Base. The developed part of the Research Base has nearly doubled in size since I was last there. I especially loved seeing my old friends. Some of them are pandas, like Yang Yang’s mom, Ya Ya. She was a favorite of mine even before she had Yang Yang. She was playing with two year-old cubs when I was there. I was so happy to see her playing with cubs. She’s such a great mom and my fondest memories of Yang Yang as a cub are of him playing with his mom. Some of my old friends are people. Two of my former Chinese research assistants have children now too. We spent most of our time talking about our kids. It was a joy to meet their children and to see my friends as parents. I hope to take my daughter to China in a few years, so that she can meet my friends and their children too. I hope Mei Lan will have fathered some babies by then that she can also meet!
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Wednesday, November 9
With all of the excitement of Po’s birthday, we still haven’t forgotten about his big brother Xi Lan. The other day Xi Lan got a special treat, too, when we gave him access to our off-exhibit outdoor habitat. At first he wasn’t so sure about the yard.  It took a little time, and coaxing from the keepers, to actually shift through the doorway that leads into the yard. But once he got out there, he immediately set to eating the fresh bamboo that the keepers had provided. We gave him access, in case he wanted to spend a little time in the tunnel, and he took advantage of this a couple of times. But he actually seemed very comfortable out there. Now that the weather has cooled down, it will be nice for him and the other pandas to have an additional outdoor space to enjoy. 
Megan Wilson, Ph.D.
Assistant Curator of Mammals

Monday, November 7
Not much is going on in PandaLand today. Things are going back to normal after the excitement of Boo at the Zoo and Po’s birthday. You might see a new sight in the dayrooms or the outdoor habitats, though. We're going to start target training Po, so that we can help him to learn to shift on and off exhibit on command. Although he isn't really behind where his big brothers were at shifting on command at 1 year of age, Po definitely has his own ideas about when he decides to shift off exhibit with his mom. Normally, we stop going into the enclosure with the giant pandas after they're 1 year old for safety reasons, but Po is pretty good about not moving when we go in his enclosure. So much so that he doesn't want to come in at the end of the day, either! So, we are going to try training him to shift off exhibit using a target stick, which is basically a pole with a plastic ball on the end. Though shaping and positive reinforcement, it is out hope that Po will learn that he has to touch his nose to the target to get a food reward. This way we can guide him off exhibit safely when needed. This is all in theory, though! Po may decide that he loves this 'game' or he may just completely ignore us. It's all about trial and error and figuring out what works best with little Po.
Jen
Keeper I, Carnivores

Friday, November 4
Po had a wonderful and fun-filled birthday yesterday. Best of all, he didn’t sleep through it! Po was hesitant when the party began, but soon jumped head first into the celebration! Lun Lun opened his present (a traffic cone donated to the pandas by a pair of admirers), but Po enjoyed the wrapping paper more than the toy itself. The cake was a hit with both Lun Lun and Po; in fact, they spent most of their time tussling over the frozen “1,” which had banana slices and pieces of sugarcane inside. Lun Lun graciously let Po win – it was his birthday after all! After the excitement of the morning, Po was worn out and took a long nap, but later in the afternoon, he played with all of his birthday stuff again. To top the day off, Po shifted inside with his mother at close, which made my day! Happy Birthday, Po!
Heather
Carnivore Keeper II

Happy Birthday Po!

A really panda-rific ice cake
Previous Start Over Next

Wednesday, November 2
We are super excited about Thursday! Po is turning one. Please check out his reaction to his awesome treats and gifts which he will receive tomorrow around 11:00.  He will receive the always popular ice cake and a present, which is a wrapped box with treats inside. Po now weighs 22.5 kg. That’s a huge change from his birth weight of roughly 100 g (we don’t know Po’s birth weight because we waited until he was nine days old to weigh him for the first time). Since I started working in pandas about three months ago Po has undergone other big changes. He went from trying to eat a small piece of banana to demolishing big pieces of banana. His climbing skills are improving every day. This morning I saw him climb to the very top of the structure in dayroom 1 with a piece of bamboo to enjoy. Usually, he drops it and has to work super hard to go back and pick it up. However, lately he is a balancing pro. Here is to the next year of growing up Panda!
Sheena
Keeper I, Giant Panda

Monday, October 31 (Happy Halloween!)
Po has gotten some new and exciting enrichment (as well as the other pandas). We traded out the hammock in Dayroom 1 for the Rope Ladder. We thought he might be a little scared of it at first, but he has warmed up to it very quickly! It's the newest, coolest, most fun-est thing EVER!  He loves trying to climb through it and wiggle his way to the top without falling through. As you can imagine, he isn't always successful but he's a very determined little panda! We also placed a scarecrow in with Lun Lun and baby Po for the second week of Boo at the Zoo, and at first, Po swatted the thing down from where we had perched it in the structure in Dayroom 1. After replacing it he decided that a nap was in order before he investigated it again. In the end, I came to check on my lovable pandas and saw that the scarecrow had once again been knocked down. Both Lun Lun and Po were up and playing so I'm not sure who did it … but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Po had decided that the new thing was most definitely NOT allowed in his climbing structure!
Jen
Keeper I, Carnivores

Friday, October 28
We have another panda birthday just around the corner. Our little Po is a big boy and turning a whole year old on Nov. 3, next Thursday. We have started decorating his ice cake and decided that since he loves cinnamon so much we were going to make a layer of his cake full of it. Hope he enjoys all the treats on his special day. He definitely enriches each of my working days, just yesterday he was playing with a jolly ball that we covered with a sheet so it would look like a ghost. He was running around everywhere with it and trying to drag it up the structure. At one point, he was sitting in the hammock with the sheet draped over him like a cape. I guess he is a super hero this year for Halloween. 
Sheena
Keeper 1, Giant Panda

Wednesday, October 26
One week from tomorrow, Po will turn 1 year old. We are still working on his birthday surprises, but I hope it will be a fun day for all of us. It is hard to believe he is almost a year old. It has certainly been an eventful year and it has been interesting getting to know our newest little panda. All of our cubs have been different in personality as one would expect. Po seems to have inherited his father’s love of routine and structure and his mother’s indifference to her keepers (unless we have food, of course!). However, he has a unique perspective of his environment. He has been the most cautious and apprehensive of all of our pandas.  He can be playful and silly like his older siblings, but he treats all new things with suspicion until Lun Lun proves otherwise. He typically avoids anything that Lun Lun does not interact with first. As he has gotten older, Po is a little more confident, but we still manage to frighten him (inadvertently, of course!) with novel enrichment items.
Heather
Carnivore Keeper II

Monday, October 24
The first weekend of Boo at the Zoo has been a lot of fun!  We've seen all sorts of really cool costumes!  And for a special enrichment, our giant pandas got to bob for apples.  It was a sight!  Both days this weekend saw identical results from each panda: Yang Yang grew impatient on Saturday and after on 20 seconds of 'bobbing' he decided that flipping the tub over would be a much quicker way of retrieving his apples.  On Sunday we tried to wedge the tub his apples were in but he's too smart! He padded right over to that tub and flipped it over...and kicked it into the moat in the habitat for good measure - I think to prove a point!

Lun Lun was the only one who figured out/had enough patience to scoop the apples out of the water.  With the tub empty of apples, Po decided that it was his cue to come over and splash around in the water and knock the tub over and play with it. 

Lastly, Xi Lan: he wasn't so sure about the whole bobbing for sweet potatoes (he doesn't get apples in his diet, yet).  He tried for a few minutes but eventually decided to take a similar route as his dad Yang Yang did, but with wetter results. He managed to tip the tub over both days...right on top of himself!  So he got his sweet potatoes in the end, but he also got himself drenched.  I don't think he cared because he was soon running around acting like a goofball!

If you weren't able to come out to see these funny events, come out this next weekend during Boo at the Zoo, because we plan on giving this another go to see what the pandas do!
Jen
Keeper I, Carnivores

Wednesday, October 19
Po is exploring our second outdoor habitat a little more each time he and his mom have access to it. A few days ago Po managed to climb into the moat and had a great time rolling around in the grass. He eventually fell asleep down in the moat and when he woke up it took him a little while to remember how to get out if it. He also tried climbing both structures. Getting up to the top of them was the easy part, but getting down seemed a little tricky for Po. He kept attempting to climb down head first, and then when he realized that wasn’t going to work he would clutch onto the poles with his front paws and then flip around so his toes were towards the ground. The first time he dangled off the structure for a few seconds. Lun Lun came to his rescue. Unfortunately, Po didn’t know his mom was about to help him, and so he gave a loud bark when Lun Lun grabbed him. I am sure in a few more months he will figure out all the techniques to be a master climber. 
Sheena
Keeper I, Mammals

Monday, October 17
Exciting times for both Lun Lun and Po! This past week we were able to give both mom and cub access to the second habitat for the first time! Po is finally big enough that we felt safe letting him into the bigger yard. Lun Lun hasn't been over there in quite some time, too. We thought Po would be very hesitant to go into the new area, but he was right on his mom's heels as she made a beeline for the fresh bamboo we had placed in there. Po has definitely been a busy little cub inspecting all of the nooks, crannies, climbing structures, and all of the new smells. Habitat 1 is still the safe zone that he goes back to when he starts to feel a little overwhelmed, but I'm sure this will pass soon enough. Lun Lun is enjoying the new scenery for sure!
Jen
Keeper I, Carnivores

Friday, October 14
This week Xi Lan has finally discovered why Yang Yang loves the swing so much! On Wednesday, I was moving him through the hallway where the swing was hanging and he was in a playful mood. Instead of shifting into the adjacent den, he climbed up onto the swing. Sheena and I laughed at him and that made him even more playful.  He went crazy playing with the swing. He was so wild that he dumped himself off of the swing and tumbled onto the floor. We laughed even harder, so he climbed back up and promptly fell off again. After that he kept falling off – on purpose! He played while we laughed for at least 20 minutes. He was just like his goofy dad!
Heather
Carnivore Keeper II

Wednesday, October 12
We have been writing about Po stealing his mom’s biscuits for awhile now. He has been more determined and successful in this endeavor lately, and so it’s time that he starts receiving his own daily allotment of biscuits. The leafeater biscuits are provided as a supplement to the giant pandas. Bamboo is the most important part of the pandas’ diet and it makes up about 95% of their diet at Zoo Atlanta. In the wild, giant pandas are very selective about the bamboo species and specific bamboo plants they eat. Giant pandas are selective about their bamboo in captivity too, but their choices are more limited. Thus, the biscuits help ensure they receive the right balance of nutrients.

Po will continue to nurse for at least seven more months. But he is more and more interested in solid food. In the next couple of months, he will begin eating significant amounts of bamboo. His bamboo consumption will gradually increase and his nursing will gradually decrease. We will increase his daily amount of biscuits gradually over this period as well. For now, we will start out by giving him about 10 biscuits each day. I’m sure Lun Lun will appreciate not having to share as many of her biscuits with Po, but I expect he will still steal a few.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Monday, October 10
One thing the keepers have to do with the giant pandas is weigh them twice daily.  Believe it or not, the weights of the adult pandas can change as much as 11 kg, or 24 pounds, from morning to night. It may sound like a pain to weigh them twice daily, but it is actually an easy procedure. We simply shift the panda away from the weighing area. We then put some biscuits and fruit on the scales, leave the area, and shift them back in. The pandas will go right to the scale, sit and start eating. They will sit there for several minutes, giving us time to run to the other side of the building to read the results. Everything was nice and easy, until now. Po has determined that his favorite place is back in the corner behind the scales. This would normally not be an issue, but it is a tight squeeze and he ends up pressing on the scales, rendering them inaccurate. Today, I weighed Po as usual. It was very easy and he performed this task for me flawlessly. When it came time to weigh his mother, however, it was a different story. After weighing him, I placed his bowl, with biscuits, on a far corner of the scale. He came over like he was supposed to and stayed with his bowl like a good boy. I then proceeded to place Lun Lun's biscuits on the scales platform and hurried to tare the scales before letting Lun Lun into the den. Po was still being a good boy, sitting with his biscuits, that is, until I let Lun Lun into the den. Lun Lun came in like normal and climbed right up on the scales as usual. I then had to race to the scales reader, to get Lun Lun's weight, before Po found out that there were more biscuits on the scales. Needless to say, I didn't make it. Po was just a little faster than I was. When I got back to the weigh area, Po had absconded with several of Lun Lun's biscuits and had wedged himself in the corner again. He refused to leave the corner for the next 30 minutes. While in itself all of this is not a big deal, it is just one of those things that puts us behind schedule in the morning. If Po wasn't so cute sitting in the corner, I think it would have bothered me a bunch more. Oh well, what are you going to do? I was finally able to get a weight on Lun Lun, but it was definitely much more difficult than it should have been.
Kenn Harwood
Lead Keeper of Carnivores

Friday, October 7
We continue to make progress with training Po to shift on command. He is much more likely to follow his mom and try and steal as many biscuits as possible.  t's comical to watch Po and Lun Lun fight over the delicious red leafeater biscuits and fruit … I'll let you figure out who usually wins! I was actually able to do a training session with Lun Lun, during which we worked on maintenance behaviors. These trained behaviors enable us to perform visual checks on all the adult pandas while safely being on the other side of the mesh. During the training session, Heather kept Po occupied with treats as he was watching his mom from nearby - I thought that was pretty cool!   
Jen Webb
Keeper I, Carnivores

Wednesday, October 5
Hi all! What wonderful weather we are enjoying. The pandas are especially enjoying it! We have had Po and Lun Lun out in Habitat 1 for the last few days and I think they have really liked it. I filled up the pool and was hoping that it would stay crystal clear, but Po had different thoughts about it. I watched him and his mom walk in and splash around. Then I watched Po roll around in the dirt, and so yesterday afternoon Po was black and brown. He cleaned up a little overnight and as soon as I put them out this morning he went straight to the pool. He didn't climb in today even though several times he reached out to touch the water. Today's adventures were full of exploring all the vegetation in the yard. I think he tried to taste everything at least once today until he finally settled down underneath the structure for a long nap. 
Sheena Braman
Keeper 1, Mammals

Monday, October 3
Wow! What an amazing day in Panda Land. Saturday night we had some guests participate in our Giant Panda Deluxe NightCrawler program. Besides learning about giant pandas, especially our cute four, they made an amazing enrichment item for Lun Lun and Yang Yang. Using two cardboard boxes, one super long paper towel roll and some paint, they created the cutest fake pandas. Sunday morning, I set the painted box pandas in the day rooms and placed scents all over the different parts of the boxes and filled the insides with hay and treats. We weren't sure if the pandas would even play with these weird toys, but they did not dissapoint. Yang Yang was the first to see his and he went crazy ripping it apart and trying to find all the treats. At one point he had the box completely ripped open and it was sitting on his head while he finished off some of the treats. Lun Lun was a little more delicate with her fake panda friend.  She went up to it and swatted the head off and then searched for treats throwing hay everywhere. It was a pretty silly sight. Po was curious about the "panda,” but decided the best spot to observe this new guy was from the top of his hammock.  He was very interested in the strong smells coming from the box and we could see his little nose sniffing the air. However, he didn't have enough courage to come down and investigate further. We didn't leave Xi Lan out of the mix; we gave him a hay pile in Habitat 2 full of scents and his favorite sugar cane. Because Lun Lun was so delicate with her panda box, we were able to pull it out and reassemble it...sorta; and we gave it to Xi Lan to finish it off. They loved it! I can't wait to see how the pandas react to their paper mache counterparts on enrichment day. 
Sheena Braman
Keeper 1, Mammals

Friday, September 30
I've gotten a lot of questions lately about the weights of the pandas, and so I thought I'd update the blog as well! First off, the adults' weights fluctuate throughout the day, usually around 10lbs, because of all the bamboo they consume. Po's weight does not fluctuate that much because he still mainly nurses and steals the occasional leafeater biscuit or banana piece. He isn't really eating bamboo, yet. That being said, Yang Yang is averaging a whoppin' 290lbs, Lun Lun around 235lbs, Xi Lan is still growing and currently weighs around 180lbs...and that leaves little Po, who just broke 21kg (~46lbs).
Jen Webb
Keeper I, Carnivores

Wednesday, September 29
Last week I had the opportunity to work with the giant pandas for most of the day, not just observe them during data collection. I hadn’t worked routine the panda building for a while, so it was great to get back to it. The thing that always strikes me when I work panda routine is how different it is from other routines. In some ways, all routines are similar, because they involve cleaning, feeding, training and providing enrichment. But unlike some of the other animals, the pandas seem to dictate other details of the day. The meerkats, for example, don’t complain much about their food. They’re happy to get it and seem to love their diet. The pandas, however, as you’ve heard many times before, are not always appreciative of what they’ve been provided. And they let you know. Last week, though, things were really smooth. Sheena and I had lots of eating and sleeping pandas and they seemed pretty happy with our performance. As a part of my day, I also got to pay a couple of visits to Shandy the red panda and Marvin the muntjac. Although Shandy wasn’t too interested in seeing me, Marvin met me right at the door of his enclosure, ready for his bananas. No complaints from Marvin, or from me.
Megan Wilson, Ph.D.
Assistant Curator of Mammals

Monday, September 26
In just a few short days, Po has definitely caught on that there are some pretty awesome perks - in the form of bananas and leafeater biscuits - that always appear when he shifts inside into one of the off-exhibit dens. I have noticed that when he does shift, he readily comes up to the mesh looking for a treat. However, if he's snoozing on a structure, that cub ain't comin' down for nothin'! He has fairly predictable times when we feel confident that he'll be awake - early morning, right before lunch, and then usually around 3:30 in the afternoon. We've been targeting these times to try shift training with him since we know he's most likely to come inside. Now we’ve just gotta figure out how to convince a panda cub that snoozing on the structure isn't as fun as coming inside can be. Every cub has been different and I'm sure we'll find out what works best with little Po!
Jen Webb
Keeper 1, Carnivores

Friday, September 23
For the past several months, we have been working with Po on some basic training behaviors.  The most important of these is “shift.”  He quickly learned that “shift” means to move through an open door, mainly by following his mother. However, just because he understands what we are asking of him does not mean he will do it. As a younger cub, he shifted quickly and very willingly because he wanted to stay with Lun Lun. As he has gotten older, he prefers to do his own thing. Currently, he likes to stay curled up on the structure, even when it is time to come inside. For a while, Lun Lun would help us out by bringing him inside with her when we asked her to. Now, Po is starting to resist her “requests” for him to go with her. This is normal behavior for a young giant panda cub. At this age in the wild, a cub would climb a tree for safety while mother is out foraging. We are working to make inside a desirable place for Po to be and rewarding him heavily for coming inside, but for now, he continues to prefer the climbing structure.
Heather Baker Roberts
Carnivore Keeper II

Thursday, September 22
We recently received some surprising news from our colleagues at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding about Mei Lan, the first giant panda cub born at Zoo Atlanta. She is actually a he, and it seems that he was incorrectly sexed when he was a cub. Mei Lan has lived at the Chengdu Research Base since February 2010, and our colleagues there have noted the appearance of testes.

Giant pandas are normally sexed as infants during early health checks. This can be difficult to do correctly, and it helps to have some practice. Mei Lan was sexed during his first veterinary exam when he was 19 days old by a staff person from the Chengdu Research Base and Zoo Atlanta staff. This is later than would normally be done at the Chengdu Research Base, and it’s more difficult to do if the cub is more than a few days old. We waited longer to do Mei Lan’s first exam, because Lun Lun was a first-time mother and we didn’t want to do anything that might disrupt the excellent care she was providing for Mei Lan.

Close examination of the anogenital area is needed to determine the sex of a giant panda cub, and a male’s testes do not descend until he is over 3 years old. Prior to this, there is no obvious external cue to sex. As a result, young giant pandas are occasionally sexed incorrectly, which was apparently the case for Mei Lan. We plan to recheck the sex of our other young giant pandas, Xi Lan and Po, during their next scheduled physical exams.

Although it’s strange for us to think of Mei Lan as a male, the good news is that this does not change how he was cared for and managed while he was growing up here in Atlanta. We all recall that his birth on September 6, 2006, was a monumental event for Zoo Atlanta, the City of Atlanta, the Giant Panda Species Survival Plan, and thousands of you, his fans, from around the world. He was the only giant panda cub born in the U.S. in 2006, and there was nothing we would have done differently if we or the staff from the Chengdu Research Base had known sooner that he was a male. He still would have been transferred to the Chengdu Research Base when he was 3 years old, and he will still be an important part of the breeding population there. So while this news does come as a big surprise, we’ll all just work on getting used to the fact that Lun Lun’s and Yang Yang’s firstborn was a son, and that son may have a bit of an odd name (Mei Lan roughly translates to Atlanta’s Beauty) for a male. I don’t think he’ll mind. I’ll bet Lun Lun knew all along. Too bad we couldn’t just ask her!
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Monday, September 19
Over the past week, Zoo Atlanta and the Georgia Aquarium co-hosted the national Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) conference. This is the largest annual event in the zoological industry, bringing together hundreds of "zoo people" to coordinate the many national zoo programs, listen to and discuss lectures, exchange ideas, find out about new products, and of course, network. On the last day of the weeklong event, Zoo Atlanta hosted "Zoo Day.”  This was our opportunity to show off our zoo to all of our professional colleagues. After the day at the Zoo, we hosted an evening party for the conference participants. From all the feedback that I heard from everyone, they were all quite impressed with the Zoo. Even though we had our extremely cute tiger cubs on exhibit, Po still stole the show. Everyone was talking about him. Po showed off for everyone during the day by playing much of the day away. As babies normally get, he did end up napping much of the late afternoon away. Whatever he was doing, people didn't care. They were still thrilled to see him.
Kenn Harwood
Lead Keeper of Carnivores

 

Yaar! (it's talk like a pirate day) This lubber Yang Yang appears to have had some grog on his birthday. Enjoy me maties.

Friday, September 16
Having just come back from my weekend, the fun stuff about Po that I have heard about was his play bout in the water the other day. Apparently he was splashing around in the pool in the outdoor habitat having a ball. We're not sure if he intentionally got in the water or if he fell in, but either way we had a sopping wet panda cub afterwards! We also gave the giant “beach ball' to Xi Lan and watched with slight apprehension as he went crazy with the ball, dragging it around the dayroom, biting it, tossing it around, trying to stand on it, etc. The cover is a little loose - it's a replacement to the last one that got chewed on a bit too much - so we were watching Xi Lan carefully to see whether he was ripping it apart or just playing rough. Xi Lan is our little demolition panda, but the “beach ball' survived his attacks with only minor wounds. :-)
Jen Webb
Keeper I, Carnivores

Wednesday, September 14
Xi Lan was in a very playful mood when I was in the giant panda building yesterday. He was in the off exhibit dens and the keepers were playing chase with him. They run along the hallway from den to den and he trots along next to them and follows them back and forth. The keepers and the pandas are separated by the enclosure mesh at all times. So, to “catch” each other the keepers put the palms of their hands on the mesh and the panda puts its front paws up on the other side of the mesh. Yang Yang also likes to play this game with the keepers and often initiates it himself by putting his paws up on the mesh and then running off as an invitation to chase him. After a few minutes of chase, Xi Lan turned his attention to a ball that was suspended in one of the dens. He swatting it with his paws a few times; then he tried to get his back legs on top of it and trap it underneath himself. That was not easy to do and it was a lot of fun to watch him try it over and over. After that it was, of course, time to have a bamboo snack.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Monday, September 12
What a great Yang Yang birthday celebration! I am so happy that he enjoyed his ice cake. Constructing the ice cake was pretty intense, but we managed. I look forward to trying to create even more complex ones. Yang Yang is definitely earning a huge space in my heart. He is adorable and loves to play with almost everything. I sure do hope that Po turns out like his daddy! Po's first birthday will be here before you know it and I am sure we are going to create some awesome toys and delicious treats for his special day too. Thanks for the cards and well wishes for all of our amazing pandas. We appreciate it and I am sure our pandas love the extra attention! 
Sheena Braman
Keeper 1, Mammals

 



  Friday, September 9
Happy Birthday Yang Yang! Our biggest panda turned 14 today! To celebrate it, all of the panda keepers got together once again to construct an ice cake. Sheena (our newest panda keeper) was the mastermind behind this ice cake and Yang certainly enjoyed it! The base layer had some apples frozen on the bottom and a middle layer of tabasco sauce, which he went crazy over!. The top tier of the cake (supported by bamboo stalks as the pillars) had some more frozen apples and bamboo leaves. We put the ice cake in Dayroom 1 and Yang Yang played with this for a good 10 minutes, alternating between rolling around on the cake, rubbing it all over himself, and then playing with the new 'beach ball' we gave him. After that excitement was over, we placed his bamboo and a large paper bag (painted for his special day) filled with treats and hay in Dayroom 2 and watched as he went straight for the bag to rip it open. It was a lot of fun to see Yang Yang, who is pushing 300 lbs, playing like a cub and enjoying his birthday.
 
He eventually settled down to eating some fresh bamboo, which brings me to Po. The weather has been beautiful here the past few days and we were able to let Lun Lun and Po be in one of the outdoor habitats all day; Xi Lan was in the other outdoor habitat. I thought for sure that Po would have crashed mid afternoon with how rambunctious he was throughout the morning, but he didn’t. He was a little ball of energy all day! We were able to put them outside again today and he's a little less hyper but was still inspecting every nook and cranny. I wish these days would stay but the heat is forecasted to come back. I can't wait for the fall!
Jen Webb
Keeper I, Carnivores

Friday, September 9
Happy Birthday Yang Yang! Our biggest panda turned 14 today! To celebrate it, all of the panda keepers got together once again to construct an ice cake. Sheena (our newest panda keeper) was the mastermind behind this ice cake and Yang certainly enjoyed it! The base layer had some apples frozen on the bottom and a middle layer of tabasco sauce, which he went crazy over!.  The top tier of the cake (supported by bamboo stalks as the pillars) had some more frozen apples and bamboo leaves. We put the ice cake in Dayroom 1 and Yang Yang played with this for a good 10 minutes, alternating between rolling around on the cake, rubbing it all over himself, and then playing with the new 'beach ball' we gave him. After that excitement was over, we placed his bamboo and a large paper bag (painted for his special day) filled with treats and hay in Dayroom 2 and watched as he went straight for the bag to rip it open. It was a lot of fun to see Yang Yang, who is pushing 300 lbs, playing like a cub and enjoying his birthday.
 
He eventually settled down to eating some fresh bamboo, which brings me to Po. The weather has been beautiful here the past few days and we were able to let Lun Lun and Po be in one of the outdoor habitats all day; Xi Lan was in the other outdoor habitat. I thought for sure that Po would have crashed mid afternoon with how rambunctious he was throughout the morning, but he didn’t. He was a little ball of energy all day! We were able to put them outside again today and he's a little less hyper but was still inspecting every nook and cranny. I wish these days would stay but the heat is forecasted to come back. I can't wait for the fall!
Jen Webb
Keeper I, Carnivores

Wednesday, September 7
Pandas love cool weather. After months and months of hot humid days, yesterday we are able to put Xi Lan outside for the afternoon. The rain and storms that passed through Atlanta the past two days made the weather cool off enough for him to go outside, which he really enjoyed. He was able to feel the cool, wet ground underneath his paws and just chill and eat some bamboo. He also spent some time reclaiming his habitat by scent-marking the rocks.
Katie Gatlin
Mammal Keeper 1

Tuesday, September 6
The past few days in the giant panda area have been different… On Wednesday we let Lun Lun and Po spend the day in Dayroom 2, rotating the pandas around like normal. Everything was great until we tried to bring Lun Lun and Po in that night. Po had no desire to leave the climbing structure and Lun Lun was not in the mood to go up that structure to get her unyielding cub. So we let them have access to an off-exhibit den for the night; no big deal!  Well, at some point Po decided that Dayroom 2 was awesome, and he had no desire at all to come down from the structure (I'm sure he came down at some point because he needed to nurse, we just weren't there to see it). So Lun Lun and Po spent three days in Dayroom 2 because he didn't feel like cooperating. He lost one of his baby teeth around the same time. Maybe he didn't feel so well because of that and felt safe and comfortable up in the structure.  He finally came down Saturday morning (day 4) thanks to his mom's coercing and the rotating schedule is back to normal; we hope.  Po is definitely over whatever problem he was having because he's been nothing but playful since coming down. He even went outside Sunday morning! It's always interesting to see how different all of the cubs that have been born here are. I'm told Mei Lan and Xi Lan didn’t camp out like that, but Po is a unique individual. He's still cute and we still love him, even if he decides to “pitch tent” somewhere for 3 days!
Jen Webb
Keeper I, Carnivores

Friday, September 2
Are you watching Po right now on PandaCam? I am! I rarely get to check out what he's doing on the camera and all of you panda fans are right, it's pretty fun! Even though I usually collect data using the very same camera system, it looks different from some reason on the website. And it's hard for me to watch this way, because I can't control the camera from here like I can from the Zoo! I missed my data collection sessions the past two weeks (shame on me, but I had good reasons), so I haven't spent nearly as much time watching Po as I would like. Right now he's working on what looks like Arrow bamboo.  Of course he's much less efficient with his bamboo than the adults and he's spending a lot of time manipulating it and mouthing it. But still, it's progress. I can't see Lun Lun in the shot right now, but given the time of day, I can guess what she's doing: eating or sleeping. Well, maybe that has nothing to do with the time of day...
Megan Wilson, Ph.D.
Assistant Curator of Mammals

Xi Lan had a really fun birthday yesterday! He loved all of the enrichment items we made for him.  He shredded his paper mache and bamboo “rattle” immediately to retrieve the biscuits hidden inside. Then he ate some of the bamboo that made the rattle’s handle. Since eating is much more important than playing for a panda, Xi Lan climbed up into the structure and ripped open the large paper bag filled with hay and biscuits. After another bamboo snack, he was ready to play. He rolled all over the room with his ice cake, rubbing himself all over it, especially the Tabasco-scented tier. I guess he got some Tabasco on his fur because he continued the self-anointing behavior even when he was on the other side of the room from the ice cake. Finally, he ate the bamboo candles on top of the cake. After all that activity he was wiped out and took a long nap. However, he must have started the party up again long after I had gone for the day because he slept in late this morning and his dayroom was a wreck!
Heather Baker Roberts
Carnivore Keeper II

Wednesday, August 31

August 30
HAPPY BIRTHDAY XI LAN!

Monday, August 29
Happy Birthday pandas! This is a fun time because every panda is getting a special treat to celebrate his or her special day. Lun Lun recieved some great gifts to destroy and an ice cake. Right now we are gearing up for Xi Lan's birthday, which is on Tuesday the 30th. He will receive an ice cake and a toy rattle made out of bamboo and paper mache. The rattle was inspired by one of our guests.A little girl visiting the pandas dropped off a present for Xi Lan a few days ago and we took a little peak inside to see an adorable baby rattle made out of a stick and some colored balls. Jen and I decided that we were going to make a copy of this toy that was panda proof and offer it to Xi Lan on his birthday. Thanks for being so thoughtful! I hope he enjoys it as much as his little brother enjoyed Lun Lun’s ice cake. Check out Xi Lan’s birthday surprises on Tuesday on PandaCam.
Sheena Braman
Keeper I, Mammals

Check out the panda antics from Lun Lun's birthday

 

 

Friday, August 26
Lun Lun had a busy and fun-filled birthday yesterday (August 25)! When I arrived in the morning, she was still eating some of her overnight bamboo. She got a piece of sugarcane while she waited for me to set up her breakfast. After breakfast, she took a nap, and then it was time for her birthday cake. As Rebecca mentioned on Wednesday, we made her an ice cake with three layers. It was not an elaborate (or pretty) cake, but it was filled with some of Lun Lun’s favorite things. Before lunch, we set up the dayroom with the cake and some fresh bamboo. As is typical of our pandas, Lun Lun only sniffed the cake in passing and went straight for the bamboo and biscuits. After Lun Lun finished her bamboo, she investigated the cake further. She worked for a long time trying to get the sugar cane out of the ice, then gave up and took another nap (or tried to!). While she worked on her cake, Po noticed her activity and figured the cake must be safe if mom is playing with it. He joined her and went crazy for the cinnamon layer.  He rolled all over it and batted it around. He continued playing with the ice even after Lun Lun left to sleep. He got completely soaked and covered in mulch from rolling around with the cake. When Po tired of the ice cake, he wanted mom to play with him, but she just wanted to sleep. She tried several different napping spots, hoping Po would give up and leave her alone, but he did not. Eventually, she gave in and played with him. Once Po had calmed down, Lun Lun was able to enjoy her sugar cane in peace, but she never did get that second nap.
Heather Baker Roberts
Carnivore Keeper II

 

 

Wednesday, August 24
Tomorrow is Lun Lun’s 14th birthday! The keepers have some wonderful birthday surprises planned for her. She will have one of her favorite enrichment items, a big paper bag stuffed with hay and treats. This one is specially painted for her birthday. She’ll also get a present, which is a wrapped cardboard box with a surprise inside. And of course, she will receive an ice birthday cake. One layer will be scented with cinnamon (her favorite scent), another layer will contain fruit, and the top layer will have a piece of sugarcane (her favorite food). I hope that Po will join in the celebration and get to help his mom open her presents. Be sure to watch the fun on pandacam!
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Monday, August 22
The infamous yellow car is not just for Po's enjoyment. We were able to let Xi Lan, Po's big brother, to have some fun with it before we played musical bears (kinda like musical chairs) with the pandas and rotated them between the dayrooms and the off exhibit dens. Po got to play with the yellow car during the afternoon, but Xi Lan had a ball sniffing the yellow enrichment item probably smelling Lun Lun and Po's scents. He also played inside of it; it almost looked like a panda was driving a car! Po got to enjoy a new toy as well - just a simple ball dangling from a long chain in Dayroom 2. He was on the wooden structure trying to pull the ball up by grasping the chain and tugging. It worked for a moment until, inevitably, he accidently dropped the chain and had to start all over. This lasted for about five minutes until he gave up and decided to go see what his mom was doing, found a leaf eater biscuit his mom missed and plopped down to munch on it. It was actually really cute because he ended up sitting near his mom eating the biscuit while Lun Lun was munching away on bamboo. It was a prelude to what we will see in the future when Po starts eating more bamboo.
Jen Webb
Keeper I, Carnivores

Wednesday, August 17
Oh boy, I was really hoping to see Yang Yang splashing in the pool yesterday. We let him into one of the outdoor exhibit yards on Monday, and he began exploring immediately. He ignored his bamboo for at least 15 minutes, which is really suprising, to check out the exhibit and enjoy the beautiful weather. He examined the new rearrangements to the climbing structure, provided by Xi Lan from an earlier outing. Yang Yang added his own touch by snapping a few more pieces off the same big branch on the structure. He then went very close to the pool that Jen and I filled up. I have heard lots about him sitting in the pool and splashing his paws in the water, and so I was super excited to see this. Alas, he decided it wasn't the right time and went to eat some bamboo. Next time, Yang Yang! 
Sheena Braman,
Mammal Keeper 1 

Monday, August 15
The pandas are doing well this week. I was able to figure out how to assemble the yellow toy car. I gave Po and Lun Lun the opportunity to play with it and well, Po decided sleep was more important. I am figuring out that if a toy is hanging or can be pushed off of something then it usually is a panda favorite. The hammock seems to be Po’s main play thing unless Lun Lun chooses to wrestle with him.  Our other big cub, Xi Lan, was a climbing machine this week.  He showed off his great skills when he had access to one of the yards early in the morning. He climbed right on top of the structure and then all the way to the very tip of the longest branch. Then…SNAP, down comes panda - yet one more broken thing from our demolition expert Xi Lan. As soon as he fell back to the main platform of the climbing structure he paused for a moment and then took off running around the exhibit. I guess he figured out that he is getting too big for some of his daring adventures.
Sheena Braman
Mammal Keeper 1

Friday, August 12
Little Po is not so little anymore. He now weighs 18 kg (nearly 40 pounds). It’s impressive that he has reached this weight consuming almost exclusively his mother’s milk. He nibbles a little bamboo and eats a couple of biscuits a day, but 99.9% of his calories come from Lun Lun’s milk. He won’t start consuming a significant amount of bamboo until he is 13-14 months old. Even then he will continue to nurse until he is at least 18 months old. Although he’s far from the tiny newborn he was, he still has a long way to go. Big brother, Xi Lan, weighs 80 kg and big daddy, Yang Yang, is a whopping 130 kg. Yang is larger than average for a male giant panda and it will be interesting to see if his sons also turn into big guys.

Size matters for male giant pandas. Larger, experienced males dominate breeding aggregations in the wild and win the opportunities to mate. Yang Yang’s large size would give him an advantage in the wild. But he has a gentle and playful personality, which makes it hard to imagine him as the bruiser he would need to be to win fights with other males. Po’s personality is becoming more evident as he gets older. So far, he is feistier than his dad and brother and it will be fun to see if that trait remains as he matures or if he will be a softy like his dad.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Wednesday, August 10
I often think about how each of the three cubs we have had differ in personality and behavior. Lately I have been reminiscing about Xi Lan. He was such a rough and tumble boy and certainly the most adventurous of the three. He enjoyed playing hard and destroying things. Of all the cubs, he has been the fiercest with the enrichment items and often renders them useless after he plays with them. He doesn’t just break toys; he has also taken down two trees from the outdoor habitats, dismantled a drinker in the indoor dens and chewed on one of the cameras we used for monitoring him and Lun Lun when he was an infant (which, of course, we thought was out of reach). Thankfully, Xi Lan has never injured himself in his adventures! As he has matured, eating has become more important than playing, but when he does play, he still plays rough. He still destroys toys (or tries his best!) when he plays with them. In lieu of pulling down trees, he will dig a huge hole in the mulch in the dayrooms. It is nice to know that even though he is growing up, our little troublemaker has not changed.
Heather Baker Roberts
Carnivore Keeper II

Monday, August 8
As Heather mentioned about a week ago, we hung a swing up in an off-exhibit area for the bears. Po was initially pretty unsure about the weird hanging thing. For a day or two he definitely was not comfortable walking past it without his mom's reassurance. Now he is completely unfazed with the swing but hasn't gotten the courage (curiosity?) to do more than sniff it as he walks past. Hopefully one day he will get brave enough to try and climb up in it before we take it down - I'm sure it will be very entertaining! Yang Yang still can't walk past it without succumbing the urge to climb up on it and play around for a few minutes (he has been super playful lately!). And to be honest, while it might put us behind a few minutes with our daily routine, we don't mind one bit because it is so rewarding to see the bears enjoying themselves, especially when it brings out their playful side. :-)
Jen Webb
Keeper I, Carnivores

Friday, August 5
Yesterday Lun Lun and Po provided some great entertainment during my data collection session.  Often during my sessions, which occur mid-morning, Lun is eating while Po sleeps on the climbing structure.  Yesterday's session started out much the same, so I settled in for a relaxing hour of data collection. Partway through, though, Po woke up and decided it was time to play.  And after a while, Lun agreed.  Once they both tired, Lun took a breather while Po nursed.  It's been a long time since I've seen such a wide variety of behaviors from them during data collection. In the end I observed them resting, feeding, play figthing, locomoting, and nursing.  I was a fun hour of "work."
Megan Wilson, Ph.D.
Assistant Curator of Mammals

Monday, August 1
Ladies and Gentleman,
Po's next brilliant move -- balancing a long piece of bamboo and walking up his structure. How cute!  He is trying so hard to figure out how to be just like his mom.  He pulled a long piece of bamboo out of his mother's stash and managed to bring it all the way to the top of his hammock structure. Once he made it to the top he sat back in the customary panda slouch and tried to break into his well earned piece of bamboo. However, he just wasn't strong enough to enjoy it quite like his mom. He kept dropping it to the ground and then went running for another piece to try. It was a hilarious little episode. He is growing up so quickly. We let him explore the outside yard for a few hours last week and he was having a great time running around and scooting underneath the outdoor climbing structure.  Of course, he would run back inside to check in with his mom every few minutes.  He is a definitely a fun panda to watch grow up. 
Sheena Braman,
Mammals, Keeper I

Friday, July 29
Yesterday I put up one of the pandas’ favorite enrichment items (and one of mine!): the swing. It has been a while since we have offered the swing to the pandas, but I was determined to hang it up this week. All of the pandas (except Po, who has not seen it yet) have enjoyed the swing at one time or another, but none of them love it as much as Yang Yang.  As soon as he saw it hanging up yesterday, he rushed over and climbed up on it and sat, holding onto the handles on each side. He played with the swing for over 20 minutes: he climbed on it, he stood on it, he lounged on it ,and of course, he slowly pushed himself back and forth off of a nearby wall. We keepers had as much fun watching Yang Yang play as he did actually playing. There are no words to describe how cute he is on that swing!  This morning he could not walk by it without stopping to play on it again.

Sadly, Po is currently afraid of the swing. I know he will learn to enjoy it just as his older siblings did, but for now, it is just a big scary thing hanging in his pathway. I think we will leave it hanging up for several days to allow Po to get accustomed to it and realize how much fun the swing can be. Unfortunately, there is no place we can hang it safely on exhibit, and so it is hung in the off-exhibit den area. That means guests and PandaCam viewers won’t be able to see the pandas use it. So, we will be sure to describe Po’s interaction with it, when he gets brave enough to give it a try.
Heather Baker Roberts,
Carnivore Keeper II

Wednesday, July 27
As Jen wrote on Monday, Po has been sleeping less and playing more lately. Today he and Lun Lun had access to one of the outdoor habitats for the first time in a couple of weeks. The weather has been so warm in Atlanta this summer that even the early morning temperatures are above the giant pandas’ comfort level. But today it was finally just cool enough for them to have access outside. Po seems to be very happy with the chance to be outside. He has spent most of the morning running outside, then charging back in to play his mom, and then running outside again. Lun Lun has been much more sedate. She walking around outside for a few minutes and then settled down to eating bamboo in the cool dayroom. I expect Po will also settle down for a long nap this afternoon in the air conditioning after his antics this morning.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Monday, July 25
Po has decided that it's time to change things up a bit during morning routine. Up until now, Po has usually been asleep when we first arrive at 7 a.m. Trying to shift Lun Lun and Po was challenging at times because a sleepy cub has no desire to listen to his mother calling for him to follow. Lun Lun, in her own desire to get to her fresh bamboo, would usually reach a point where calling the cub wouldn't work and she would have to physically drag him out of his sleepy stupor. Now things are different! For the past few days or so Po has been awake, playful and rambunctious when we first arrive. So, it's been a lot easier to get the little cub to follow his mom.  Seems he's starting to sleep a little bit less and play more. Watching Po and Lun Lun playing more often and just a little bit rougher (because he's bigger and is starting to fight back) is the icing on my cake every day!
Jen Webb
Keeper I, Carnivores

Friday, July 22
The pandas are welcoming a new face. Hello, I am Sheena and I have traveled from Outback Station to the world of Pandas. It is amazing over here and the pandas are incredibly fun to work with on a daily basis. I am picking up my new routine and hopefully the pandas are getting used to seeing me around all the time. I already miss the wonderful animals in Outback Station, especially the Kune Kune pigs.  However, the pandas are making this a smooth transition, and it is exciting to learn about and care for them.  Po is quite a unique giant panda, from what the other panda keepers have been telling me.  He is the first cub I have worked with and so it is all new to me. Every day so far he has been showing me the ropes and making sure I know what he likes. One of his likes is pieces of banana, which I like to give him because he looks pretty adorable trying to eat them. I haven’t figured out what he dislikes yet, but I am sure with his BIG personality, he will let me know. 
Sheena Braman,
Keeper I, Mammals

Monday, July 18
Normally, keepers get a little upset when the animals in their charge simply aren't cooperating and make them late for lunch. Today, however, it was a different story. Usually before lunch, we need to bring Lun Lun off exhibit so that we can clean her exhibit and offer her a fresh bundle of bamboo, along with her lunch allotment of fruit and biscuits. After servicing Yang Yang and Xi Lan, we went to attend to Lun Lun and Po. She is normally waiting for us and Po is usually in the climbing structure taking one of his afternoon naps. We looked through the window of the dayroom to see where everyone was, and Lun Lun was not waiting for us, and although Po was on the climbing structure, he definitely wasn't taking one of his naps. Po was in full alert mode, defending the climbing structure from Lun Lun, who was trying to dethrone him in a game of "king of the hill." Po wound himself in the limbs on the structure and held on tight, but Lun Lun was just too much for him. He was yanked from the tree and unceremoniously dropped to the ground. The whole crowd of visitors gasped at this, thinking that Po would be hurt. Giant pandas, even the little ones, are virtually indestructable, so a little fall into some mulch didn't even faze Po. Lun Lun did not savor her victory in the climbing structure long, and came down to lay her claim the rest of the exhibit. Po, who was more than happy to concede the rest of the dayroom, made a mad dash up one of the limbs on the structure to once again claim his spot. Lun Lun just couldn't let Po get the best of her, and climbed back into the structure to regain her title of queen of the structure. This scenario played itself over and over for about 25 minutes, much to the joy of the keepers and visitors alike. Once we saw that the little man was tiring some, we were able to get Lun Lun off exhibit and we were able to offer her some fresh bamboo and biscuits. Po was given a piece of banana and a biscuit, which he enjoyed immensely. The whole melee made us about 20 minutes late for lunch, but I guess we can forgive them. After putting Lun Lun back into the dayroom, the day went back to normal: Lun Lun sitting, enjoying her fresh bamboo, and Po, who was a little tuckered out, having one of his nice afternoon naps.
Kenn Harwood
Lead Keeper of Carnivores

Friday, July 15
Some of the recent updates have been about training Po. We have received requests for more details about that, which I will share in this update. Like all of our animals at Zoo Atlanta, Po is trained using positive reinforcement. That means that if he performs the behavior he is asked to perform, he receives a reward or reinforcement. The most common type of reward used with our animals is food. But a reward can be anything that the animal likes (e.g., a favorite toy, attention from keepers, an opportunity to be with or see a favorite social partner). For the giant pandas, the most powerful reward is preferred food, like sugar cane, fruit, or leafeater biscuits. Because Po is just starting to eat small amounts of solid food, we don’t have a very powerful reward to offer him, yet. But as he gets older, nurses less, and eats more solid food, he will be more motivated to participate in training. Then the keepers will start to work on more behaviors with him.

An important tool in positive reinforcement training is establishing a bridge. We use a whistle as a bridge. We pair the whistle sound with the reinforcement (e.g., food) repeatedly and pretty quickly the animal learns that the whistle or bridge means that he or she has done the right thing and that the reward will be coming. The bridge is important because we want the animals to know immediately when they’ve done the right thing and sometimes we can’t deliver the reward immediately.

Behaviors are taught in different ways. Sometimes a behavior is captured, which means the animal does a behavior on its own and we just catch the animal doing the behavior and reinforce it. Then we work to establish a cue, like a word command or hand signal, for the behavior. Sometimes we shape a behavior, which means we reinforce closer and closer approximations of the behavior we want until we reach the goal behavior. For more complex behaviors, like participating in an ultrasound, we chain together different behaviors to reach the goal behavior.

That gives you a brief overview on how we train animals at the Zoo. The concepts are fairly simple and basic, but applying them consistently and effectively requires practice and is a highly developed skill among our keepers. It is absolutely amazing to see the training accomplishments of our keeper staff. Many of them will tell you that training is one of their favorite parts of their job. It certainly makes it easier to care for the animals. And it makes the animals’ lives less stressful and more interesting.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Monday, July 11
As we tell you what Po weighs, you may be wondering how does one weigh an 8-month-old cub?  Well, you train him.  We have built-in scales in two of the off-exhibit dens that we use to weigh Lun Lun, Yang Yang, and Xi Lan two times a day. Since Po does not gain much weight in a day, he is weighed once a day. For the adult pandas, we place a few biscuits on the scale and then shift them and ask them to climb up on the scale. For Po we are following the same technique, but since he is new to the process, we sometimes let Lun Lun in with him so that he will follow her up. This will help him learn the connection between being asked to go on the scale and finding a reward. Once the connection is made and he is more eager for biscuit rewards, he will  run right up on the scale just like the rest of the pandas.
Kate Roca
Mammal Swing Keeper III

Friday, July 8
It dawned on me a couple of days ago just how huge Po has gotten since I first started here back in March.  Back then he was around 5 kg. Now he's tripled that at 15 kg. He is no longer the little cute cub struggling to climb up onto the shift-door ledge to follow his mom, taking on the arduous task of climbing up into the hammock only to collapse into a long nap because that task took all of his energy. Now's he's the playful, rambunctious, galloping, biscuit-stealing, irresistibly curious 7- month-old cub who's very entertaining to watch. I can't wait to see what's next as we watch Po grow up!
Jen Webb
Keeper I, Carnivores

Wednesday, July 6
Last week I saw Po do one of the most entertaining things I have ever seen a giant panda do. While he was playing with his half barrel, he flipped it over on top of himself. Then he walked around the dayroom with the barrel covering him. Lun Lun noticed the barrel walk past and watched it with a look of surprise. She went over to investigate and soon discovered that Po was under the barrel. She began pawing the barrel, I think to try to pull it off of him. Maybe realizing the fun was about to end, Po pushed the barrel off himself and emerged. Po leads a pretty sheltered life, but like any normal youngster he still finds ways to alarm his mother!
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Monday, July 4
Happy Birthday, Po!  Our youngest bear turned 7 months old on Sunday!
 
As Heather told all of you the other day about the site where our team of bamboo cutters struck proverbial gold with some bamboo that the pandas devoured, we had a few days of awesomeness here at the panda building.  Alas that particular crop of bamboo did run out and over the weekend we've had arrow bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica) cut from 3 different sites to offer to the pandas in hopes that they would find something they loved.  Unfortunately they haven't found anything they love as much as the other stuff.  It's always hit or miss when our team of guys goes out to harvest bamboo.  We let them know what we can to guide the cutting, such as whether the pandas are preferring darker bamboo, or bamboo with no sheath (the protective outer covering that falls off as bamboo grows), younger leafy bamboo, etc.  But the pandas' preferences can change in the blink of an eye so it can be frustrating to find the right bamboo at times. 
 
But when all else fails we have ways of helping the pandas eat their food. For example, we do biscuit feedings where we give the 'bamboo' command (looks like we're showing the panda the back of our left hand).  The pandas know that when we give them this cue, they need to take a bite of bamboo in order to get a reward, which is a leaf-eater biscuit that they really enjoy.  It works well because it ensures that they are eating a proper amount of the diet they would eat in the wild.
 
Po of course is exempt from all of this right now. He still lives on his mother's milk and the occasional banana or biscuit that he's able to steal from his mom (although every day he shows more and more interest in bamboo so it's only a matter of time!).
Jen Webb
Keeper I, Carnivores

Friday, July 1
Last week our bamboo cutting team found a wonderful stand of arrow bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica). Arrow is our pandas’ favorite species of bamboo. This year they have been eating it since April, but last week’s harvest has been one of the best we have had. The pandas are destroying it. However, even though the pandas are eating this bamboo so well, we have not had to offer them as much as we normally do. The bamboo has been so satisfying that the pandas have not had to eat as much or as often, and thus have had more leisure time. As Kate mentioned, all of the pandas have been very playful this week and they have been taking longer naps between meals. It has been a very happy week here in the panda building. Alas, the bamboo stand only had enough for two days of cutting (~ 400 kg) So, it will not last forever, but we are all enjoying it for now.

We keepers offer many thanks to the team of guys that cut bamboo for the animals. It is a difficult and thankless task because the pandas can be so picky about their bamboo. Our guys do a great job and even if the pandas do not appreciate it, we certainly do!
Heather Baker Roberts
Carnivore Keeper II

 

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