Decorating Diva, Version 4.0

Su Lin

I had planned to write a simple, uneventful post—how the panda kids have settled into their exhibits, how Bai Yun continues to quietly thrive behind the scenes, how ultrasound procedures have begun (more to re-acclimate Bai Yun to the routine rather than to find anything at this early date)—but shame on me. It really is bad to underestimate the antics of Su Lin, as I was reminded the other morning.

While she has had her first, mild estrus, Su Lin is still a young and often playful panda. (Remember Bai Yun’s energetic romping when she first arrived at about five years of age?) As she and her father have been trading places over the last month or so, their routines have been pretty mellow and, well, routine: enter new area, explore, scent mark, eat, and sleep, with not a lot of variation on the theme. But Su Lin is Su Lin, after all, and it can take very little to rile her up, as happened the other day.

Gardeners from our Horticulture Department were up on the hillside behind the exhibits pruning out some of the bamboo—a happy sound for pandas and one which attracted the attention of both the sleepy Su Lin and her snoozing sister, Zhen Zhen, next door. They each began to exhibit the anticipatory behavior that generally accompanies the sound of bamboo being handled in the back, cruising around the exhibits and peeking and peering behind to catch a glimpse of some keeper activity.

It must have been something in the air—the weather perhaps, the joy of a possible early lunch—but Su Lin suddenly shifted into one of her moods, vocalizing, romping and rolling, attacking the bamboo in the exhibit as she raced around, all of the things that people come “all the way from (fill in the blank) to see.” The panda viewing area was too crowded, so there was plenty of room for all comers to enter and enjoy the fun. It didn’t end there, however—what fun is being in a mood if you can’t tear around the elm tree? So up she went exploring those front limbs further and further out until, yes, panda fans, she was partially hanging uncomfortably close to the Plexiglas barrier. This can be most entertaining for the guests, but does not make the staff—especially the panda narrator—very happy. Fortunately for me, one of Su Lin’s very favorite keeper friends happened to be in the area after an absence of several months, and the sound of her voice at the rear of the exhibit had Su scrambling over herself to get out of the tree and visit her “buddy.” Whew!

As we’ve pointed out in the past, the pandas grow, the trees grow, and as Su Lin finds her way to old familiar spaces, we’re often forced to modify the exhibit, so yet again will the poor Chinese elm in the right-hand enclosure be pruned and the area redecorated to accommodate the lively, lovely, intelligent Su Lin. See if you can spot the difference in the tree over the next day or so and look for an increase in sunshine in that normally shadier area.

Me? I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next time, and we can be sure, with Su Lin, that’s there’s bound to be a next time. It does make a delightful change from routine and keeps things ever interesting.

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

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