Panda Care

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Many of you have sent in questions about our pandas and their care. Here are some answers from the Panda Team!

Pandas and bamboo consumption
Pandas are carnivores and have the teeth one expects a carnivore to have. It’s true that old pandas can show tooth wear; we crack open the thickest bamboo pieces to help protect our pandas’ teeth from wear. Their digestive system produces large amounts of mucous, to help the passage of their fibrous diet.

It is normal for panda cubs to investigate plant matter with their mouth and adults are basically vegetarians, despite being classified as carnivores. Please don’t be worried about the potential for injuries from the bamboo. It’s not an issue. Look at it this way: a species that is often harmed by its food source doesn’t last long, and pandas have been around a long time.

Panda hearing study
Panda Team researchers are testing to learn the actual extent of the panda’s hearing: how quiet, how low, and how high? So far we are learning quite a bit from our study with Su Lin. She has been doing a fantastic job and we’ve learned that she can hear sounds that we can’t. We can use this information in the same manner that information is being used for the polar bear hearing study: what sounds are affecting them and could possibly drive them away or bother them? We aren’t using any music for this; instead, our research team uses a set of tones that they have already picked out for them. The team used this same program for our polar bears. The keeper inside the soundproof room with the researcher has control of when a tone is played so we know Su Lin is responding to an actual part of the study and not just trying to get a reward.

Panda weights
Bai Yun, our largest panda and mother of our newest cub, currently weighs 228 pounds (104 kilograms). Gao Gao, who has always been on the small side for adult males, weighs 163 pounds (74 kilograms). He is enjoying life and taking it easy. Our keepers are working with him so that he may also be tested for our hearing study.

Su Lin, now 4½ years old and 182 pounds (82.5 kilograms), has lost a little weight as a young female approaching the estrous season, but this is a normal consequence of increased activity combined with a slight decrease in appetite. Zhen Zhen, an active 2½-year-old, weighs 134 pounds (60.8 kilograms) right now. And Yun Zi, at 6 months old, weighs 25.8 pounds (11.7 kilograms). The Zoo’s nutritionists track animals’ weights and are satisfied with everyone’s progress.

Panda exams
Breeding adults at the San Diego Zoo receive an exam prior to breeding season. Young pandas have an exam every week until they become too squirmy to handle, as recently happened with Yun Zi. Su Lin and Zhen Zhen are young, healthy animals, so it’s likely they won’t have exams until their preshipment exams, prior to their journey to China one day. Again, we do not have a date set for Su Lin’s departure at this time.

Caring for a growing cub
There will come a time when Yun Zi and Bai Yun can remain on exhibit with bedroom access overnight, thereby eliminating the need to shift them off exhibit late in the day. Initially, the cub is likely to spend much of his time in a tree while Bai Yun is shifted for cleaning. Eventually, he’ll become more interested in the shifting process, but every cub is different as to when they comply. That’s part of what makes panda watching so much fun for all of us!

Note: New photos have been added to the Panda Photo Gallery.