A Little Switch

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A change of scenery will be enriching for active, curious Xiao Liwu.

On Friday our keepers decided to switch it up a bit for our panda bears (and for a particular tree); Xiao Liwu was moved into the first enclosure and Gao Gao moved to the “Keebler” side. This change of environment is nothing new to our bears (we do this every few months), and is a chance for guests and Panda Cam viewers to see some interesting behavior as the pandas get reacquainted with their new spot. Giant pandas are very good at scenting their territory, and when we are able to play “musical bears” we give them the chance to re-mark territory and exhibit some of those behaviors: scent marking in a handstand position as well as rubbing on trees and even on the ground. Not only is this fun for our guests to observe, it is a good behavior for our bears to express. Changing locations is a novel enrichment experience for the pandas.

The switch last week also gave our staff a chance to check out the little elm tree that Mr. Wu was exposing. For those of you who haven’t seen that particular enclosure over the years, it has gone through a few trees in its day. The first tree in the exhibit was knocked over by Su Lin, born in 2005. Luckily, nothing was damaged and we were able to secure her and the tree so that she could continue to use it as a climbing structure. We were then gifted with a young elm tree that Yun Zi (born 2009) tore apart during one of his many energy bursts. Shortly after that, we acquired the elm currently in the exhibit. We did our best to secure it so that the tree might stand a chance against a young, rowdy bear. So yesterday when our keepers discovered that little Mr. Wu had torn the plastic covering off the elm, they moved Gao Gao into the exhibit knowing that he probably wouldn’t destroy the tree.

Over the past ten years, I’ve watched cubs go through the many stages of adolescence, and they can be very destructive. The cubs learn how strong they are and like to test boundaries. And never forget how smart bears are and how curious they can be. As keepers, our job is to make sure that these bears go through these stages safely. For our researchers, this is a busy time watching and noting the many changes going on with our bears. This can often be fun for the observers as they watch the bears be a little silly and try out their abilities.

So while our staff does their best to restore the tree’s protective covering, enjoy watching the bears in a new—yet familiar—environment. Also keep an eye out for some smelling behaviors; after every storm I think we get some of the most fascinating behaviors from all of our animals as they investigate all the new smells kicked into the air.

Anastasia Jonilionis is a panda narrator and keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous blog, Thunder and Lightning.

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