About Author: Alyssa Medeiros

Posts by Alyssa Medeiros


Helping Panda Keepers

Why work when you can play?

Why work when you can play?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been fortunate enough to work as an exhibit attendant at the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Center. I’ve been learning a lot about keeper work and what it entails. What I’ve learned is that it’s a ton of fun and a TON of work!

Most panda keepers start their day off around 6 a.m. with getting the supplemental diets ready for the bears and making the bamboo bread loaf for Gao Gao. Then they are ready to clean up last night’s leftovers and panda poop and give the bears their breakfast. Once the exhibits and bedrooms are clean, it’s off to the takins we go, cleaning and placing hay, pellets, and browse throughout these goat-antelopes’ exhibit.

When work at the Sichuan takin exhibit is done, more than likely it’s lunchtime, but soon afterward it’s time for the bears’ mid-day feeding. Keepers prep bamboo diets for the pandas’ last feeding of the day as well as tomorrow’s breakfasts and lunches. Next, they cut and weigh the apples, carrots, yams, and low-starch, high-fiber biscuits for the next day so the food is ready when the early morning keeper arrives. Finally, it’s time to enter information into the computer, such as how much the bears ate or what enrichment they were given that day. Pretty soon you realize it’s already time to clock out. Time flies when you’re having fun!

Even though I’ve had a bit of keeper work experience in the past, I’ve seen some things for the first time. I loved watching Gao Gao getting his blood pressure taken. He’s such an intelligent bear and is always ready to participate in any training session. He’s so eager to put his front limb through the metal chute to get an apple slice. Gao Gao is also very patient and definitely doesn’t mind the attention from the keepers. He LOVES his back scratches!

I also found it interesting to watch the pandas and takins getting their weights taken. The keepers have to plan ahead, since there’s always a lot to do in an eight-hour shift. I’ve learned that with this process, not only are the animals patient, but the keepers are as well, especially if one of the animals doesn’t feel like standing on the scale. If they don’t want to do it the first time, it’s okay. Keepers offer food as a form of encouragement if they decide to even stand on the scale for a slight second. Sometimes the animals don’t want to participate, and if not, keepers will just try again on another day to get that weight.

Watching the keepers do training sessions with Xiao Liwu has been one of my favorite experiences. Like his dad, Gao Gao, our youngster is eager to learn and interested in the honey water provided during his training. Sometimes he’s waiting at the gate to be let in for breakfast, but sometimes he’s fast asleep in the tree. Either way, I love to watch our keepers have a relationship with all of the bears. Of course they have their favorites, but you can see they have such a wonderful bond with each of them.

It has been such a treat learning more about keepers and their daily work. They are all such bright, intelligent, hard-working individuals. Each has their own spin on their daily tasks, whether it’s raking or sorting out enrichment and diets. They are such amazing people with a unique story on how they ended up keepers at the San Diego Zoo. Our Zoo has an incredible team of people who take care of our amazing animals.

Alyssa Medeiros is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Reflections on Xiao Liwu.


Reflections on Xiao Liwu

Xiao Liwu enjoyed the "little gifts" that hung from the tree on his birthday.

Xiao Liwu enjoyed the “little gifts” that hung from the tree on his 1st birthday.

For the three years that I’ve been working at the Giant Panda Research Station as a panda narrator, it has been a treat to watch our panda cubs grow. Xiao Liwu is the second panda cub I’ve watched grow up, and with his first birthday just passing I can’t believe how fast he’s grown!

I remember when he was just learning how to climb in the classroom exhibit. Starting very slow but steady, he would slip a few times, just as cubs may do when learning this skill. Then once he tried a couple more times, he got the hang of it. Sooner or later he was climbing to the higher branches in his tree, finding a comfy place to take a nap. Now he’s a pro! He sometimes tries to be quite the daredevil and hang upside down in his tree. Like kids, he LOVES to be a ham.

My favorite quality about Wu is that he’s very inquisitive and observant. He is always watching Bai Yun and is curious about what she does. One afternoon, Wu joined Bai Yun at the front of the exhibit and sat next to her while she was eating. He watched her for a moment, grabbed a piece of bamboo, and tried to copy her. He tried so hard to peel the tough stalk with his teeth just like Mom. Eventually, he gave up and started playing with her ears.

Xiao Liwu is also very smart. He’s doing so well with his training. Whenever I watch him training with his keepers, I’m amazed how quickly he picks up on the behaviors. Wu is learning to walk into his bedroom from the exhibit when the bedroom door opens and to touch his nose on a target. Of course, they MUST have honey water as his treat.

I feel so privileged to watch Mr. Wu learn how to be a bear. I see the joy he brings to our guests, our keepers, and our narrators. I must say, he is my favorite Little Gift.

Alyssa Medeiros is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Cub: Adventurer.

This panda cub growth chart shows that Xiao Liwu is about the same size as his sister, Zhen Zhen, just a few days before his first birthday. Click on image to enlarge.

This panda cub growth chart shows that Xiao Liwu is about the same size as his sister, Zhen Zhen, was at the same age. The measurements were taken just a few days before his first birthday. Click on image to enlarge.


Panda Cub: Adventurer

Let's play some more!

Ready to play some more, son?

Xiao Liwu was very active today, January 29, in Panda Trek’s north exhibit. At first he was on top of his tree stump, sleeping away in the hay as cozy as can be. He slept for at least an hour and a half. The six-month-old finally woke up and began his adventure of climbing on tree limbs and exploring in the exhibit. He tried chewing on some bamboo leaves, just as mama Bai Yun does. I always notice he tries to copy Mom as much as he can. Wu then was interested in the plants, biting at the little branches and leaves. He’s very interested in the world around him. I always notice he will try biting on different leaves and branches.

Then he wanted to play with Bai Yun, which our guests love to see! They were wrestling and playing in the bin full of hay. He practices his bear skills while playing, just like humans learn while they play! One of my favorite moments of the morning was when he would run after Bai Yun and try to bite her on her bottom. He just makes me laugh!

Sometimes he can be so stubborn with his one-track mind, but it always makes for good stories and a great experience for our guests. As the morning came to an end, Xiao Liwu enjoyed playing in the bushes exploring the flowers and leaves. This “little gift” is quite a little adventurer!

Alyssa Medeiros is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Cub: Little Gift.


Panda Cub: Little Gift

Rick Gulley, left, and Ron Swaisgood reveal our cub’s name.

I have worked as a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Center for only a couple of years, and I’ve never been to a naming ceremony before. As this was my first one, I was VERY excited! While we waited, two Chinese musicians played traditional music, and a video montage of the cub’s exams thus far played above the stage. I, for one, could watch it over and over—the little guy is just that cute!

Lion dancers help us celebrate the cub’s name!

Once all of the anxious audience members were seated, a beautiful parade began. Chinese lion dancers in amazing costumes danced around the Zoo’s Hunte Amphitheater and interacted with the crowd. After a small performance, the president of our board of trustees, Rick Gulley, spoke about how thrilling the moment was. He then introduced the consulate-general of the People’s Republic of China, Qiu Shaofang, who discussed how happy China is with the accomplishments the Zoo has had with giant panda conservation. He included the cub’s name: Xiao Liwu, which means “little gift.” The audience gasped in amazement. Finally, the co-head of our giant panda program, Ron Swaisgood, spoke of the conservation accomplishments in China and at the Zoo. It really opened everyone’s eyes as to how much we are doing to help these amazing bears.

Once the speeches were over, the three men unveiled a black cloth that was draped over the large sign. There was the photo of Xiao Liwu and his name and pronunciation (sshyaoww-lee-woo) printed on the bottom. This sixth cub really is a “little gift” to our Zoo. Attending this ceremony made me very proud to not only be a San Diegan, but to be a panda narrator. This was truly an amazing and unforgettable experience!

Alyssa Medeiros is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Yun Zi: A Wild Child.

Note: Watch the entire ceremony here…


Yun Zi: A Wild Child

Yun Zi had fun with cinnamon sprinkled in a box, October 25.

Yun Zi was definitely a busy panda boy today! He was extremely playful this morning, rolling around in his bin and flipping it upside down. At one point, after he flipped the bin upside down, he crawled underneath it and started to walk with it on his back. He looked like he was pretending to be a turtle! Then he ran after a pile of bamboo, jumped on top of it, and began to wrestle the bamboo to the ground. After biting off some leaves and tossing it aside, he sprinted around the exhibit, playing soccer with his Boomer Ball.

Yun Zi played like this for about an hour or so. Our guests really enjoyed watching Yun Zi at play. It was definitely a great morning at the San Diego Zoo.

Alyssa Medeiros is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Yun Zi and the Box.


Yun Zi and the Box

Yun Zi eyes his next activity.

There was much to see at the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station on Independence Day. Yun Zi was being his busy self, playing with enrichment and lounging in his hammock while snacking on some bamboo. The keepers gave him a box filled with herbivore biscuits. At one point, he picked up the box with his front paws and began to spin it around with his back feet, on a mission to pour the biscuits onto the ground. He succeeded after several attempts.

After an afternoon nap, he climbed down from his tree and into his hammock. Surrounded by a large amount of bamboo, he began to feast on some large bamboo stalks and leaves, delighting all of our guests. What a way to spend the Fourth of July!

Alyssa Medeiros is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Yun Zi: Busy Panda Boy.


Yun Zi: Busy Panda Boy

Yun Zi ponders his next move.

Yun Zi was definitely a busy boy on Saturday, May 19! The keepers gave him plenty of enrichment to keep him occupied. He received a tub full of ice, two hard-plastic Boomer balls filled with carrots, yams, apples, and herbivore biscuits, and a burlap sack filled with hay.

As soon as the bedroom door opened, our young panda ran to the tub and began to go through the ice, rubbing the cubes all over his head. He then tipped the tub over, spreading the ice everywhere, and tumbled down the hill, bringing the tub with him. Our guests were enthralled and were laughing and snapping as many photos as they could! Yun Zi even chased his Boomer ball around the exhibit, almost like a kid chasing a soccer ball.

After a lot of playing and running around for almost two hours, he FINALLY took a nap. What a day in the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Trek!

Alyssa Medeiros is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Gao Gao and the Tub.


Gao Gao and the Tub

Gao Gao

Bai Yun and Gao Gao were enjoying themselves Thursday afternoon at the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station. Gao Gao had received a bin full of fresh pine shavings as his enrichment. He REALLY enjoyed himself! He was rolling around in the bin, rubbing the shavings all over his head. He even took a nap in there for a bit but then crawled out and moved to his favorite napping spot behind the tree. In the evening, he returned to the tub and sat in there, eating some bamboo. Gao Gao was also vocalizing quite a bit that day. Our guests were very excited to see him.

Bai Yun slept about half of the afternoon. Once the keeper replenished her food, she was up and about. On the hunt for her favorite snack, red apples, she vigorously climbed the tree stumps, which impressed all of our guests. After snacking on the apples and carrots for a bit, she placed herself atop her rock cave with very large pieces of bamboo to dine on.

By the end of the day, our giant pandas were still happily eating their bamboo, a perfect ending to a perfect day at the San Diego Zoo.

Alyssa Medeiros is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Bai Yun Scent Marks.


Bai Yun Scent Marks

Bai Yun explores her exhibit during December's snow day.

Panda Trek at the San Diego Zoo was full of excitement on Friday, February 17! Bai Yun was scent marking quite a bit that afternoon. She left markings along the ground at least a few times and also walked through the water in her pool. For the rest of the day she mostly ate and, of course, slept. At one point she dragged a very large piece of bamboo to the top of her rock cave. She then sat down and began to break the thick stalk of bamboo, impressing all of the observing guests.

Gao Gao was also on exhibit that day. After the keeper had replenished his food and cleaned his exhibit, he went on a “hunt” for his herbivore biscuits as well as the yams, carrots, and apples.  He seemed to climb under and even on top of his hammock to find his tasty treats. I also observed him climbing to the very top of the mock panda den to sit and have lunch, just as I’ve seen little Yun Zi do. Like father, like son!

Finally, once the sun started to go down and the Zoo was closing, both Bai Yun and Gao Gao went inside their bedrooms for a nice nap, which is always a great ending to a great day at Panda Trek.

Alyssa Medeiros is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Enrichment. 


Panda Enrichment

Yun Zi

The Giant Panda Research Center was full of activity yesterday, November 1. Yun Zi was being very entertaining for our guests, especially with his enrichment. Our keepers gave him a pile of soil and shavings sprinkled with scent. He gave our guests a show by rolling all around in the soil, rubbing it on top of his head. It was like a kid rolling around in the sand on the beach. Once he was finished, he looked more like a small black bear than a giant panda. He was a day late for Halloween!

Bai Yun seemed very content. At one point she sat on top of some branches while resting her head on the tiny hammock that is attached to her tree. She just looked so silly! And at the end of the day, while Bai Yun was in her pond and Yun Zi in his hammock, both sat happily eating their dinner.

Alyssa Medeiros is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Pandas: A Beautiful Day.