A Big Step Forward

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Yun Zi. Click to enlarge photo.

Tuesday morning, January 18, was exciting here at the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station: it was the first day that Bai Yun and Yun Zi were allowed access to both sides of the main viewing area, an important step in smoothing the transition to Yunni’s final weaning. The steel door at the back of the separating wall was opened, Bai and Yun released into “their” left-hand enclosure, and in short order both moved to the right to investigate this “new” space.

Yun Zi had never been in that area, and it had been a long time and a major renovation since Bai Yun had been in there, the last time being spring, 2009, during breeding season. There was much to see, explore, smell, and scent mark for our mellow mother bear as she slowly wandered, marked, and inspected the area. After a rather short period of time, she settled in to eat some bamboo (both sides having been lavishly supplied), and then she strolled back over to climb up onto her lair and nap in her favorite spot. So comfortable is she in her Zoo home that she appears to be taking all of this in stride.

It was very different for the cub, however. Imagine being released into your own, private, brand-new playground for the very first time. So much to see, so much to climb, every inch to be carefully investigated, with only an occasional glance at Mom! It was a treat for him and a delight for any who happened to be there for his non-stop hour and a half of exploration. Up and down, around and across, through and under every log, bush, rock, and tree. With the scent of his father still so strong, the hollow tree merited special investigation, both inside and out. It was especially gratifying to see him climb horizontally across the section of climbing structure that had been Su Lin’s favorite elm tree before she collapsed and uprooted it, now re-purposed into an aerial pathway for her little brother. He is still a youngster, however, and it took a lot of energy to begin settling in, but our intrepid little guy chose to nap independently on the left side, on the now-familiar climbing structure, away from Mom. Sigh! They grow up so fast.

Gao Gao was, of course, moved to the North Exhibit to allow mother and cub extra space, so it was a big day for him as well. The scent marks of pandas can linger up to three months, so he, too, had to scour the area and lay down his marks. It can take, as we’ve seen in the past, a few days for giant pandas to become comfortably acclimated to a new area, so it would not be unusual for these exploratory behaviors to continue over the next few days. It would be a good time to visit the Zoo or watching Panda Cam to share in the activity. Our main viewing area is open regular hours, and Gao Gao can be seen in the North Exhibit in the mornings and early afternoons.

Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, A Panda New Year.