Many of the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Cam viewers have asked about Gao Gao, our adult male panda and father of our latest cutie, Yun Zi. Although he is not currently on exhibit, I’m happy to report that he’s doing very well! He and his daughter Su Lin usually rotate every few weeks between the main viewing exhibit and the off-exhibit enclosure). But Su Lin is currently undergoing hearing studies by our research team, and to move her from the off-exhibit enclosure to the soundproof room where the study is done every morning would take away so much from the study itself. So for right now, it’s more practical for bears and keepers to keep everyone where they are at this time.
And speaking of Gao, we often get questions about his success at fathering cubs. Although Bai Yun and Gao Gao are the only pair of giant pandas to naturally mate in the U.S., there are several occurrences of natural mating in China’s panda reserves. Now, why are they the only ones to succeed here? That really can’t be answered, since there are so many different thoughts on the matter.
Once the brief mating season is over for our pandas, we like to determine if a cub is on the way, but we need Bai Yun’s help to do this. Our bears are trained using well-known behavioral training methods, employing rewards for successive approximation to whatever the goal behavior is. We trained Bai Yun to urinate on command by “capturing” that particular behavior and rewarding her for it. Basically, our keepers would bring her into an area where they would observe her, and when she would urinate, they would reward her and tell her she was doing a good job. She soon caught on that they liked it when she did this and loved pleasing keepers for a reward. Lab tests done on the urine sample can tell us about changes in her hormone levels that may indicate a pregnancy.
As Bai Yun got closer to the time she might be giving birth, we were able to do ultrasound procedures on her. Doing the ultrasound without using any sedatives is always better for the animal, especially is she is pregnant. Our keepers started training Bai Yun for ultrasounds a few years ago by capturing the behavior of her rolling onto her back for us. Then they had to desensitize the area that the vets would be working on. During this time she is in a squeeze, which is a place where keepers and vets can minimize the area the animal has to move in. Our keepers kept rewarding her for lying still while they rubbed her belly and put some pressure on her abdomen. They did this for a period of time to allow her to adjust to the procedure. This can take weeks and weeks of training, but is certainly well worth the effort.
Many of our panda fans have contributed toward items on our Wish List for our pandas, as well as other animals in our care. These items included toys for Yun Zi and his family. Do they have a favorite toy? From my personal experience, I would say that they love the hanging ball, especially if we put treats in there for them. They also like different scents (they love cinnamon!).
Yun Zi is still nursing, although there really isn’t an exact time when he does this or a schedule of any sorts. We have seen him play in water, but can’t really tell you if he’s drinking it. I think one of the reasons he has gotten so big so fast is the fact that Bai Yun doesn’t have a schedule. She will feed her cub whenever he is hungry and doesn’t really restrict that. Watching Yun Zi nurse is pretty sweet!
One last question on everyone’s minds these days: When will Su Lin relocate to China? Although we expect Su Lin to go to China sometime in the future, we do not have any information about this possible move at this time.
We thank all of your for your interest in our pandas and we hope you continue to enjoy watching them and learning about them!
Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.