Routine? What Routine?

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Bai Yun April 15

Bai Yun April 15

After all the excitement of last week’s mating season here at the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station, you would think that we, and the pandas, would be settling into a nice, regular routine. But no, these bears are keeping us on our toes, as is everything else around here.

Bai Yun and Gao Gao are still in the main viewing area and back to their usual eat-and-sleep schedule (as regular as that can be with unpredictable animals). It’s obvious that mating season is well and truly over, for Bai and Gao’s interest has waned visibly. We are expecting to begin rotating pandas, with Bai Yun eventually going into seclusion in the back area later this spring or early summer, but the protocol for that has not been determined. That may be decided later this week with the actual rotation beginning somewhat later; as always, these decisions are made by the research and animal care teams and can change without notice, so keep watching Panda Cam and see if you can determine when the switches are made.

The installation of the bamboo chiller progresses nicely, with the last of the racks being made this week. It’s not quite finished, though, which gives our guests a little while to watch the process of bamboo prep from the viewing area, something we’ve all enjoyed. It will be better for the keepers and the quality of the bamboo to move into the back area and the new chiller, however, and around here, it’s all about the pandas. The panda keepers have asked me to give those of you who contributed to this project a great big “THANK YOU!” It’s going to be a huge asset to this area and your favorite bears!

As if that was not enough news, our little girl, Su Lin, is growing up: she’s having her first, possibly preliminary, estrus. (Think “panda puberty”). All of those behavioral indicators (the restlessness, loss of appetite, energy)  are there, and she had her first vaginal swab. (This procedure will be important as Su Lin continues to mature, since it can be an indicator of readiness for mating.) It is sad, though, to realize that yet another of the cubs is becoming an adult. Sigh. They grow so fast, don’t they? And yes, she’s three and a half years old, reaching maturity perhaps a bit earlier than “average” but the same age as her half-sister, Hua Mei, was when she began to mature. A family trait, a result of superb nutrition, or the warm Southern California environment? Who can say, but this is yet another panda question still to be answered.

Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.

Update: Starting Thursday, April 23, Su Lin, Zhen Zhen, and Gao Gao will rotate into the north main viewing exhibit serviced by cameras 1, 2, and 3. Each rotation will be for two weeks. Su Lin will be first, with ZZ scheduled to go in that exhibit May 7.