Panda Sisters

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Zhen Zhen reaches out to her sister, Su Lin.

Zhen Zhen reaches out to her sister, Su Lin.

Our two sisters, Su Lin and Zhen Zhen, have been housed next to each other in the main exhibit areas for the past several months. These exhibits are designed to keep the giant pandas separate, with no real visual contact between the two. Well, Thursday morning, September 24, for the first time, we opened the howdy gate between the two exhibits and allowed Su Lin and Zhen Zhen protected contact with one another (see post Hello, Gorgeous Panda). The howdy gate allows protected contact in that the bears can see and smell each other through the mesh in the gate while still being separate, and therefore protected.

pandas_zz_su_2Once out on exhibit, Su Lin approached the gate first and peered into the adjacent enclosure. Zhen Zhen was sitting near her pond and she noticed Su Lin at the gate right away. She observed her big sister for a few moments and then tentatively started to make her way over toward the gate. As ZZ cautiously approached the gate, she bleated (a friendly vocalization) softly a few times. The two bears began smelling each other through the gate, and this nose-to-nose interaction lasted for quite awhile. Gradually their cautious behavior began to relax a bit, and Su Lin started rolling on her back in a playful, inviting gesture. Before long they appeared quite comfortable with one another, and they began displaying play behaviors that we don’t often see, including rearing up and playful running and roll invitations. It was clear that the two very much enjoyed interacting with one another.

pandas_zz_su_3At one point during my observation session, Su Lin did take a break and eat some bamboo in her enclosure. During the time when Su was away eating, ZZ sat and waited at the gate trying to look in and see where her big sister had gone. And as soon as Su returned to the gate, the two began playing again.

We are planning on providing PC (protected contact) again with Su Lin and Zhen Zhen. So if you live in San Diego, you may be able to watch the two sisters interact and play with one another. Or for those of you who don’t live nearby, we’ll do our best to get their interactions out on Panda Cam. If it’s anything like Thursday, it should be quite entertaining!

Pamela Crowe is a research technician at the San Diego Zoo.