I was fortunate to be invited to participate in a workshop for the veterinary and curatorial staff at the Taipei Zoo and to give a talk on giant panda conservation at the 2nd Cross-Strait Symposium. The first day of the workshop I was treated to an extensive tour of the Taipei Zoo’s veterinary hospital and introductions to the staff, all of whom have adopted English names to facilitate communication with foreign visitors. Meg Sutherland-Smith of our San Diego Zoo’s veterinary staff and I gave talks on anesthesia and reproduction in giant pandas, respectively. We each then gave talks at the symposium on ultrasound and reproductive technology in the panda.
It was wonderful to see old friends from Taipei, Hong Kong, and Wolong at the symposium and to make new friends from Singapore, Macau, and mainland China. But it was a special treat to tour the fabulous giant panda facility on the zoo’s grounds and to meet the pandas and their keepers. I was especially excited to meet Tuan Tuan, Bai Yun’s grandson and one of Hua Mei’s first cubs (born in Wolong in 2004). He is a gorgeous, large male with his grandmother’s sweet temperament.
The keepers demonstrated their training techniques by asking Tuan Tuan to present his arm to attach a blood-pressure cuff. He came into the training chute and placed his arm into the tube without hesitation and was rewarded with treats and lavish praise from his trainers. Tuan Tuan’s companion, Yuan Yuan, has been trained for ultrasound examination in preparation for a possible pregnancy next spring. The bond between the trainers and the giant pandas was exemplified by the very cooperative Yuan Yuan, who gently held the trainer’s legs with her back paws throughout the session.
The Taipei panda keepers and trainers were so proud to introduce me to Tuan Tuan. Knowing my connection to him, they understood when I tried to hide a few tears of happiness. In 1999, I had the privilege of performing the artificial insemination on Bai Yun that resulted in the birth of Hua Mei—without a doubt the highlight of my long career at the San Diego Zoo. Tuan Tuan is living proof that our conservation efforts are making a difference in the survival of this precious species.
Barbara Durrant is the director of reproductive physiology for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Panda: More Thermal Images.