While watching Zhen Zhen and Bai Yun, it shows that we’re getting close to a new stage for the panda youngster. In just a few months we will see Zhen Zhen and Bai Yun begin to separate. This would normally happen in the wild anywhere from 18 months to 2 years old. Although Zhen Zhen does still nurse from mom, Bai Yun will ween the cub completely soon. Zhen is actually eating a very good amount of bamboo already. She has shown a lot of interest in the stalk of the bamboo, and has shown all of us that she can maneuver the bamboo to eat the same thick part as mom. Panda cubs first begin eating solids around 10 months, usually starting on the leaves and smaller parts of the stalk. As they grow older, they will be able to break through bamboo quickly, and efficiently.
Zhen Zhen has been spending a good amount of time on her own and entertaining everyone at the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station. As we get closer to the 18-month mark, keepers and researchers will observe Bai Yun’s behavior toward the cub and will decide when it would be a good time to begin the separation process. Bai Yun may be a little unwilling to share food, and sometimes even space. At 18 months, the cub will become a solitary giant panda just like she would in the wild.
Here at the Zoo, we are hoping to preserve the natural behavior of the animals, and with the giant pandas this has paid off. Having Bai Yun be such an experienced mom helps us with this process as well. She knows exactly what will be going on with the cub and prepares the cub for her life without mom. Zhen Zhen will have her own enclosure here at the Zoo and will still be able to be viewed by the public.
Leaving mom at 18 months also allows Bai Yun time to herself before she comes into her next estrus. Female giant pandas will only come into estrus once a year, but if the female is caring for a cub still in the den she will skip that estrus. The separation at 18 months will make sure that she is still able to cycle.
Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.