As we come to the end of January, people are coming from near and far to see our Yun Zi. Unfortunately, he’s not always the most active little boy you’ll see. What a lot of people don’t know is that he’s been awake and playing for about three and a half hours already by the time the San Diego Zoo opens at 9 a.m.
As keepers, we get into work at about 6 a.m., sometimes earlier, and the first thing we do is check our bears using the monitors that we have in the Giant Panda Research Facility building. We’re looking for where they are and what they’re doing. Normally, we find Bai Yun and Yun Zi either in the den, playing, or in the garden room with Bai eating while Yun Zi practices his climbing skills. This is where we see him burn off a lot of that energy, and it’s important for him to keep climbing and building up those leg muscles.
Around 6:30 a.m., we start getting the classroom exhibit ready and begin to encourage Bai Yun and her cub into the exhibit. Breakfast has been laid out for Bai Yun and enrichment has been put out to try and keep Yun Zi active. One thing I love about this cub: we can put out as many enrichment items as we want, but at the end of the day, the enrichment he gets excited about the most is a dried-up leaf!
Bai Yun is always willing to come out of the bedroom; she knows there’s breakfast out there. But the cub is more about instant gratification rather than walking a little bit for some fun. It can take us anywhere from a few minutes to sometimes half an hour to get the cub out of his back bedroom area. Once in the tunnel that connects to the exhibit, he’ll follow mom quickly, but getting him to the tunnel can be a little challenging. “Patience is a virtue,” but in our line of work, “patience is our job.”
Once out on exhibit, he usually spends some time playing with his enrichment and making a mess of Mom’s bamboo that we have laid out for her. After exerting all his energy, he’ll climb up the tree, find a good, comfortable spot, and go to sleep—and that’s often at 9 a.m. and the Zoo opens for the day.
So come by and check him out, but please don’t be too upset if he’s sleeping. After all, it’s tough work being cute!
Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator who often helps out as a keeper at the San Diego Zoo