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This new artificial tree for Yun Zi has been a lot of fun! Zoo guests can watch our three-and-a-half-year-old panda climb all over it, and keepers can provide enrichment items in and on it in new ways. I love to watch our keepers hide food for Yun Zi in the tree’s little nooks and crannies and throw the bamboo up high where he has to work to get it. Although he did recently pay a little too much attention to the small elm tree in his enclosure, he has been a bit better about not destroying the poor “real” tree.
As we panda narrators watch him figure out how to maneuver his way to the top of the tree, keepers have the fun job of trying to make it more difficult for him. I always tell people that bears are really never given enough credit for being problem solvers (or starters, in Yun Zi’s case!). Yun Zi, like his siblings before him, is very good at figuring out different ways of remodeling the enclosures.
A Zoo guest recently asked me why the bears don’t have more grass and plants in the exhibits. Laughingly, I replied that we try all the time to add vegetation to the exhibits, but if the bears don’t like it or want to change it, there really isn’t a whole lot we can do. I still remember the morning we put grass in with Bai Yun and Yun Zi when he was a small cub. The Horticulture Department and many other bear keepers came down to help us get everything ready for the pandas. Every single time we came in to service the enclosure, Yun Zi had moved pieces of sod around, and Bai Yun had begun to flip sod pieces over as well. At every cleaning we had to put the puzzle back together for them and hope that it would take.
Our keepers are always finding new ways to enrich our animals’ exhibits and try to out-smart our animals. We are grateful for the planning and dedication they give to each and every one of our animals!
Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Living Life in Front.