Prepping for the First Exam

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It’s hard to believe that our baby panda will soon be a month old! Already preparations are taking place for the first cub exam by our Zoo veterinarians. How does one prepare for such an event? Well, it all really depends on mother Bai Yun.

Giant pandas do have a postpartum fast that can last up to several weeks. Once Bai is observed leaving the den to start eating, we start planning for a cub exam. Right now, Bai is leaving the den on a regular basis, eating small amounts of bamboo, leafeater biscuits, and produce three times a day. She is slowly getting back to her old routine. When the slider door closes to Bai Yun’s bedroom and sunroom, she hears the keeper cleaning the sunroom. When the keeper is finished cleaning, food is placed in the sunroom, the door opens, and Bai has access to her food. Lately, she has been coming out within a few minutes.

As Bai Yun eats in the sunroom, we gently close the slider door that separates her from her cub. We, of course, monitor her comfort level with this; we have her up to four minutes now with the door closed. The next step is to have a keeper in the other bedroom with the cub, doing some very quiet cleaning while Bai is eating. We have another keeper watching Bai in the adjoining sunroom to make sure she is fine with this. Our goal is for five minutes with this management. Once we have reached our goal, we can set a day for a cub exam.

The first exam is quite a staged event. We have a keeper selected to get the cub from the den, one keeper with Bai Yun making sure she is settled and eating, the vet who will perform the “quick exam,” the Zoo’s
photographer and videographer filming the process, and our nutritionist, who will get measurements on the cub. We try to keep the first exam very brief; as time goes by, we will lengthen the exam time as Bai permits us. Of course, if the cub starts to cry, the exam is over and it is placed back into the den very quickly! Bai is an excellent mother and will react if her baby is in distress.

The big question now is the date of the exam. All I can say for now it that it will be very soon! I have had the privilege of getting several of our panda cubs out of the den for their first exam. I can tell you this: it is very exciting holding a baby cub and seeing it for the first time out of the den! We are placing bets on the sex of our new cub. What is your guess? Stay tuned….

Kathy Hawk is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.