Panda 1st Grade

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We have no formal training going on with nine-month-old Yun Zi right now, only brief moments of behavior conditioning (see post Panda Kindergarten). As he gets older and wants to play more, we keepers become an object of his play bouts. However, this will not be desirable as he gets bigger and stronger, for obvious reasons! So when he is down out of the trees, we try to redirect his behavior to something else, like giving him an enrichment toy, bamboo, or even an apple slice so to discourage his wanting to play with the keepers.

Our next goal is trying to get him to shift into the bedroom with Bai while we clean the exhibit. Since food is always a powerful tool for training, this works well for our adult pandas; they come off exhibit, and treats are their reward. But for a cub that is still not really eating solid foods yet, this can be challenging. So, we will wait until he is older for that. However, we do take advantage of opportunistic times when Yun Zi is near the bedroom and we call him and his mother in; if he comes in with Bai Yun, we try to give him something for a reward: a piece of bamboo to play with or a toy, something for his efforts.

In time, Yun Zi will come to understand that keepers do not make good toys and that it is highly rewarding to come into the bedroom when asked to do so!

Kathy Hawk is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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