Time to (Panda) Trek!

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Red panda Lily explores her new home in Panda Trek.

Phase I of the Panda Trek at the San Diego Zoo has finally opened, and critters and visitors alike are delighted! (See video of Panda Trek). Lily, the one-year-old red panda, is busily exploring every inch of her beautiful new habitat (when not curled up in one of the elm trees). The field station is open for a peek at how scientists live in the wilds of China, and the takins are settling into their new, multilevel enclosure. A ramp leads up and around the corner to the giant panda research station (quiet voices, please!) where Gao Gao and Yun Zi are available for viewing most of the day. We’re awaiting the arrival of the Mang Mountain vipers; they’ll be moved down in the next few weeks and can be seen for now at the Zoo’s Reptile House.

It’s been an exciting transition for all. For many people, the best part was moving day, when the takins were allowed to leave their previous enclosure near the Elephant Odyssey Fossil Portal and walk down to their new home at the Trek—at least that was the idea. Once on the forested hillside, the takins had other plans. Instead of wandering down in an orderly fashion, they reached the hillside and decided to explore – and play – and explore – and backtrack – and play – and chase – and approach the gate to their new area – and retreat. It was delightful to watch these majestic animals in an approximation of their wooded mountain habitat (no native eucalyptus in their wild home, after all), romping youngsters and stately adults both, and we made sure that visitors were aware of just how special this sight was.

We've created a new home for our takins, too!

Keepers, meanwhile, exhibited extraordinary patience as they coaxed, called, cajoled, and tried everything they could to entice the takins to leave the hillside and enter their new area. No amount of treat-bucket shaking was enough to lure more than one of the takins in at a time, and then that animal would leave to rejoin the rest of the group on the hillside. Eventually, food, as always, won out, and the takin herd moved into its new home to dine, and there they remain for all to see.

It’s been interesting to watch the panda guys adjust to their new neighbors. They could catch a glimpse of the takins on moving day, but not as much now. The sounds and smells, however, are another matter. Gao Gao especially is intrigued by the smell, stopping in mid-activity as the breeze shifts to lift his head and sniff. Yun Zi seemed alert to the recently added residents in the early days, but after two weeks he seems to be less interested.

And Bai Yun? She remains off exhibit and is being monitored for any signs of pregnancy. There is still nothing definitive, one way or the other. We’ve still much to learn about the process of delayed implantation and pregnancy in older females, but continuing research is yielding exciting new developments every day.

Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator and educator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Pandas: The Big Questions.