Then it was up in the tree, the Chinese elm on the right side of the enclosure. Up and down, hanging by her hips, rubbing and bouncing, she gave a great show. Energy undiminished, she went way out toward the ends of the branches, bouncing some more. She had a look in her eye as she checked out the pine branch extending toward the elm branch, and she went for it. Su Lin grabbed the pine branch and was pulling it toward her. Was she going to transfer herself to the pine? No, as she stretched from the end of the elm branch to the pine, the elm tree started slowly descending toward the ground! Apparently the rain-softened earth let go of the roots, and the tree fell over, resting on the big stump toward the front. Su Lin was smacked by the end of a branch but was uninjured; she began playing in the now-horizontal tree.
Zoo guests were astounded! Open mouthed, we all watched the panda jumping on the newly repositioned branches. What fun! Next, a quick radio call to the keepers and a request for the guests to exit the exhibit. We had to be sure the panda did not have a way to get out of her enclosure. She didn’t. The keepers rattled the treat bucket and called to Su Lin to come into the bedroom. She ignored them, climbing around and hanging on the branches, sniffing and digging at the exposed roots, enjoying her rearranged furniture.
After playing for a bit, the panda became interested in the proffered treats and came over to the fence, got her treat, ignored the keeper’s calls, and explored some more. Finally, she went into the bedroom, and then it was safe for the keepers to enter and examine the damage. In short order the San Diego Zoo’s arborist arrived to assess the situation. Horizontal looked okay to him, and he thought the tree would survive. It was moved a little so it didn’t rest on the stump, and some branches were trimmed so Su Lin could come back in and enjoy her redecorated enclosure.
Chris Tratnyek is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.