The amount of time that Bai Yun and Zhen Zhen are physically being separated is slowly increasing, with predictable results. As we’ve seen during past weanings, the behavior of even the most independent cubs can suddenly shift to being more mother-centered, seeking the comfort of nursing more often (although the amount of actual milk may not be that great, and cubs continue to eat their copious amounts of bamboo), and soliciting more interaction with Mom. It’s as if the cubs (Zhen Zhen included) have received the letter but don’t necessarily like the message it contains.
ZZ has spent more time trying to nurse and more time sleeping next to Bai Yun than I’ve seen in a very long time. Bai, conversely, is trying to escape the presence of the determined little cub by moving from side to side within the two exhibits, with ZZ hot on her heels. (ZZ actually tried to dive from one side of the pool to ambush her mother on the other side, falling into the pool as a result. She missed, but undaunted, she continued to pursue Bai back into the other exhibit. The girl’s got spunk!) This persistance and sudden re-interest in Mom is typical: it’s been observed with ZZ’s elder siblings, Hua Mei, Mei Sheng, and Su Lin. The level of interaction is becoming much firmer on Mom’s part, although not yet aggressive, but it appears from her behavior that Bai Yun is ready for ZZ to move on, also pretty typical at this stage of weaning The research and keeper staff are watching carefully. As always, it is the behavior of the bears that will determine the actual timetable for separation.
While there is a tentative schedule, it becomes more flexible with each passing day, so don’t be surprised at who you see where as you log onto Pandacam to follow the happenings here. Remember that this is a necessary step in the development of young pandas.
Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.