Panda Cub: In Due Time

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Now nearly three weeks of age, Bai Yun’s fifth cub continues to do well and develop right on schedule. The black of the saddle, ears, and legs has set in, a pigmentation change of the skin that precedes the black fur that will grow in to cover those areas in the next several weeks. Although our veterinarians have not yet had a chance to examine the cub, it is likely that the eyes and ears are still closed, as these don’t fully open until several weeks after birth.

When will the vets have a chance to look at the cub? As always, this will depend on Bai Yun. When she develops a regular pattern of den departures and is comfortable staying away from the den for many minutes at a time, then staff will feel more comfortable about shutting the door between her and her offspring in order to access the den to retrieve the cub. Doing it any sooner could cause undue stress for Bai Yun, who is very protective of her young at this stage of the game.

Interestingly, Bai Yun is developing that more relaxed attitude at a slower rate than previous years. The graph below demonstrates that she is allowing the cub to be in contact with the ground for less time than our 2003, 2005, and 2007 cubs at the same age. Time in contact with the ground–either while simultaneously in contact with Mom or independently while she is out of the den–is an indicator to us of Bai Yun’s comfort level, how relaxed she is about caring for the cub. Thus far, she appears to be sustaining a high level of care that prevents her from putting the cub down much. This is one sign to us that, as of day 15 postpartum, she wasn’t yet ready for us to exert any influence over what is happening in the den.


I know it is difficult to wait to get the first color photos of our new little panda. I am sure you are anxious to know the gender of the cub and hear the veterinarian’s reassurances that the youngster is healthy. But we will all need to wait a little longer, because Bai Yun is still very much in charge here. Not to worry: it won’t be that long before she hits her stride and allows us a chance to peek into that den. At that point, you can expect a regular stream of photographic updates as the vets establish their routine health checks with the cub. In due time…

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Hungry?