Wednesday, December 10, marked the return to “home base,” the left-hand or south viewing area for giant pandas Bai Yun and Zhen Zhen after a 10-day absence. The reason for this was readily apparent: a renovated cave area, lots of pruning and clean up, and newly-planted shrubs provided a refreshed and renewed environment for mother and cub. And what an interesting environment it was! Not only were there new structures and plants to be investigated, but each and every smell left behind by the construction workers, the gardeners, and their equipment had to be olfactorily investigated, especially by Zhen Zhen.
For the first half hour, structure was less important than scent as the little bear carefully walked the area and the climbing structures, inspecting each new bush and every branch where strangers had placed their hands or feet, and all of the newly configured rocks. And then, in true panda fashion, she went to sleep. Bai Yun, meanwhile, entered and ate, in true Bai Yun fashion, before even considering the inspection process.
Once the morning preliminaries were observed, however, it was an exciting morning. Napped and refreshed, Bai Yun made a serious study of the new place. (She did have to adjust her bulk around the new boulders on top of the former cave, not a major issue.) There was scent marking to tend to, with ZZ following suit, serious tree marking and body rubbing against the pine tree, and maneuvering around the new bushes to reach her favored “toileting” spots. Formalities observed, it was then playtime.
We often see cubs rear up on their hind legs facing Mom to solicit play, but it is rare that I have seen Bai Yun reciprocate. Wednesday, though, that’s just what she did. Several times throughout the rolling, romping, playful morning, Mom and cub reared up in mutual play, tumbling and rolling around the exhibit. Judging by the level of activity that the exhibit changes elicited, I’d say that the additions were a great success and will keep the gals busy for many happy days to come…although I won’t bet on the longevity of the new bush to the left of the cave.
Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.