Yesterday morning, the bears were late in getting out on exhibit; a very special enrichment was being prepared for them that required them to be extra patient. Staff members from the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Reserach Station, Sun Bear Forest, and the Horticulture Department all convened to paint the panda area green.
Not using paint, of course. Thanks to a generous donation from a group of panda enthusiasts known as FLOP, staff placed a carpet of sod down over most of the public viewing areas. Areas that didn’t get sod had a little extra coat of mulch. The process of getting their new “carpet” in place meant the bears had to cool their heels an extra hour, but boy, was it worth it!
If you tuned into Panda Cam at 9 a.m. yesterday, you got to see Zhen Zhen’s joyful response to her new “toy.” She sniffed about, then rolled on, rubbed against, and ran on her sod. She got dirty rolling in the mulch and moist grass. The presence of the carpet stimulated playful behaviors, and she crawled all over her mother, Bai Yun. Of course, while momma may have been impressed, she saved her playtime until after she had wandered about and found all the biscuits and veggies set out for her by the keepers.
Panda keepers picked just the right day to place the sod. Gao Gao came back out on exhibit. Betting he would have a more mellow reaction than Su Lin, the keepers were rewarded in that Gao Gao sniffed about a bit and seemed comfortable on his new grass couch, but he did not destroy the sod immediately. He’ll be on exhibit for a while before Su Lin rotates into that space…time enough, we hope, for the grass to take hold before her playful paws dig into it. If she had entered the exhibit yesterday, she might well have pulled the sod up in a romp across her yard.
We are taking bets on how long the sod will last. Zhen Zhen will probably get a wild hair and do a little damage sooner rather than later. Gao may be gentlemanly and have little impact on his new greenery. Su Lin…well, even if it does take hold before she gets
there, it probably won’t take long for there to be a few “bear” patches in the grass.
Suzanne Hall is a research technician at the San Diego Zoo.