Panda Acclimation

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ac•cli•mate – to accustom or become accustomed to a new climate or environment; adapt

Next week, viewers of our Panda Cam will notice a change in our bears’ usual routines. Gao Gao will move out of his current exhibit space, and Bai Yun and Yun Zi will get the run of the front-of-house as we open a door that allows this pair the opportunity to explore both sides of our main exhibit space.

The purpose of this is to allow Yun Zi an opportunity to acclimate to an unfamiliar area while still benefiting from the security and comfort of his mother’s presence. With Bai Yun by his side, Yun Zi will likely view the new exhibit as an interesting place to explore and investigate. We want him to be comfortable here, because in the not-too-distant future he will be spending time there on his own.

No, we are not ready to begin separations between mother and cub. This acclimation period is not intended to be a short window, as are the actual separation steps. Instead, this is just our way of ensuring that the introduction of a new space does not happen at the same time as a weaning separation. We want him to adapt, to become accustomed to the exhibit so that it does not factor into any of the weaning stress he might endure.

In preparing for the weaning to come, it is inevitable that many of you would express your disappointment that the time of mother-cub association is coming to an end. We understand and appreciate your concerns. For those of you who have not experienced a panda weaning yet, I will take this opportunity to remind everyone of a few panda facts:

– In the wild, the inter-birth interval for pandas is two to three years.
– When a female dens up to give birth, she does not bring any of her previous cubs with her.

At some point, the mother-cub bond needs to be broken in order that the female can continue her normal life cycle. Certainly, most cubs aren’t happy with this prospect, no matter how sensitively we handle it. But this process is much less painful for Bai Yun. Our data demonstrates that with her later cubs she has moved through weaning with little stress and dives right into her renewed solitary life with gusto. And we have seen that within a few short weeks of weaning, she can become aggressive with her offspring should they happen to meet across a fence, as she did with Hua Mei, her firstborn.

As always, we will keep everyone apprised as we progress through the steps of weaning. But for now, enjoy this acclimation time—both for the bears and for their fans—as mother and cub explore the new space together.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Sun Bears: Next Steps.

Note: Gao Gao arrived at the San Diego Zoo on January 15, 2003. We are celebrating the 8th anniversary of his arrival here with a small ice cake on Saturday, January 15. Keeper Kathy Hawk is making a three-layer cake for our famous panda dad and presenting it to him around 9:15 a.m. We hope you can come watch Gao enjoy his special treat in person or on Panda Cam!