4th Exam: So Cool

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Lisa watches as Meg examines the cub.

Lisa watches as Meg examines the cub.

I was just delighted to be the keeper handling our newest arrival to the Giant Panda Research Station on September 22 during the weekly cub exam. Our little male (well, not so little, actually) tips the scales at 5.73 pounds (2.6 kilograms), making him quite the “pudge” if you ask me; a healthy pudge but still a pudge.

As is the norm, keepers cleaned Bai Yun’s sun room, set it up with food, and gave her access to it when all the necessary parties had arrived at the station for the exam: keeper and marketing staff, researchers, and, of course, veterinarian Meg Sutherland-Smith. Bai Yun did not fail us, as has been her norm.

After a brief nursing bout with the cub, she exited the den to have some breakfast in the sun room. With the door secured and a keeper stationed to keep an eye on her activities, it was my cue. I entered the bedroom to gain access to the cub sleeping comfortably on the well-bedded-down den floor. He looked so comfortable nestled in all the bamboo his mother had spent time dragging into the den and shredding to her liking.

I took the small blanket that our Children’s Zoo nursery staff had provided us and rubbed it on some of the bamboo in the den to get some of Mom’s and his scent on it. Then, while covering our little guy, I scooped him up in hand and blanket…not a peep. Seems he was a panda cub in a panda mother’s milk coma. Perfect. The more satiated the baby, the quieter the baby and the more time we have for examination. If he were to vocalize loud enough to get Bai’s attention, our exam would be done for the day, as she would be more than anxious to attend to her baby in need. At this point I was glad that our senior panda keeper suggested weighing him on the platform scale in the bedroom we use to weigh his mother, as he had outgrown our tabletop scale since his last exam.

Once out of the bedroom, I laid the cub on the covered table we fashioned in the keeper area. Dr. Meg and I, already dressed in our clean smocks, proceeded to take measurements and examine the development of the cub’s senses: eyes, ears, mobility, etc. Marketing staff was there to document the exam with video and photography. Since Bai Yun was happily eating, we were able to do everything necessary to record our newest arrival’s health status and developmental progress. I scooped him up once again in his little blanket and returned him to the exact place I found him in the den. Right back to sleep he went. Sooooo cool.

We gave Bai Yun her access to the bedroom, and she did get back to the den but not before she had had her fill for the morning. Such a good mother.

Lisa Martin is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Note: We now have a Panda Cub Milestones page to help you see what’s next for our little boy and how he compares with his siblings!