Rain for Pandas

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Bai Yun enjoys the scent of rain.

On Friday, November 4, as guests shuffled around to find some cover from a rather constant downpour, our giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo were having mixed emotions about the sudden weather change. For quite some time Bai Yun really didn’t give the rain any thought. She continued eating and would occasionally throw her head back to get a good smell of the different scents that were suddenly appearing. We humans can smell a difference in the atmosphere when it rains, or after it rains, so imagine how many different smells Bai Yun was picking up with that amazing sense of smell that she has!

As the day continued, we had one or two breaks in the rain, and she would take that time to look around her exhibit and shake some of the rain off of her thick, dense fur coat and find a good spot for a little nap. By the end of the day, though, she had definitely had enough of this weather and was ready to go in for the evening around 4 p.m. With little interest in her food, and tired of sitting in the heavy downpour, she pushed her food aside and waited for keepers to give her access to her indoor bedroom.

Our little Yun Zi was quite a different bear all together during the day. Even as a little cub he enjoyed the rain, because it made mud for him to roll around in. I remember one of the first times he ever went outside: I had coaxed him out of the den, and he soon became enthusiastic about having the opportunity to roll around in the mud. When it was time to come back inside, he looked like a little brown bear cub! On Friday, he definitely was having a good time with the rain. He climbed his climbing structure all the way to the top and would throw his head back, smelling the air. He even took food up there to snack on and became very active. He really put on an amazing show for the few guests that did come to the Zoo on that rainy day. But by the end of the day, when it really began to pour, Yun Zi went inside his outdoor shelter and brought some food in with him. He sat in there and just looked at the rain falling down and was ready to go in when our keeper gave him indoor access.

Giant pandas are from high elevations in the mountains of China where they are found; it rains and snows there in the winter, and the pandas are equipped with a very thick fur coat. The fur is about three inches thick all over most of the panda’s body, and even though those top layers of fur may get wet, the bears are still able to stay warm and dry. I honestly think our young pandas get quite a bit more active in the colder wet season than in the summer, and often they are the most interesting to watch as they experience the weather change.

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Pandas Grow Quickly.