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About Author: Anastasia Jonilionis

Posts by Anastasia Jonilionis

131

Summer Pandas

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Xiao Liwu got a swing for his birthday—the perfect gift for this active young bear!

The end of the Zoo’s longer summer hours is in sight, and our animals are getting hit with another big heat wave. This year has been a more mild summer as a whole, but we have had some small sprints of heat. Many of you, visiting or watching, have noticed that Gao Gao has spent many of his summer days in the air conditioning. While this has been frustrating for our guests visiting, please know how much we appreciate your cooperation while we get Gao Gao bear through summer.

While Gao Gao has been relaxing most of the day, Xiao Liwu has been quite a character to watch! Throughout the day we have observed him having random energy bursts, and showing off to our guests. Remember this is normal for a panda as they go through their first hormone shift at three years of age! For those of us that have been watching him since birth, up close, it’s great to see him really exhibit these bear behaviors.

I have had the amazing opportunity to watch five of our panda cubs go through their first hormone shift, and it NEVER gets old. Right now I can honestly say that there is no perfect time to come visit the pandas for good activity levels; there are mornings where Mr. Wu is entirely on FOOD mode, there’s SLEEP mode, and then there’s DEMO mode! Right now, he has been eating for several hours a day, no specific time, and there is almost always a time where he is running, rolling around, and jumping on stuff in his enclosure.

Bai Yun is still in our behind-the scenes-area. As many of you know, our vets have come to the conclusion that she is not pregnant. While we are of course disappointed, we are glad that she is healthy and doing well. Our keepers will be working with her on a daily basis, and getting her out of her den and outside into her garden room. This is a process in itself. Making sure she’s comfortable is their number one priority and they are easing her back into her normal routine.

So thank you again for your understanding and helping us keep our animals comfortable—remember that in the heat of the day none of our bears are really going to want to be up and about! And this coming week, drink lots of water while you’re visiting us at the Zoo!

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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.

Monitor’s note: We have recently updated our Blog Comment Policy. We ask that comments stay focused on the topic of the blog or what you observe on Panda Cam rather than animals or events at other institutions. Thank you!

6

Thunder and Lightning

The Zoo's newest giraffe calf, born May 5, seemed to get a real kick out of the thunder and rain last week.

The Zoo’s newest giraffe calf, born May 19, seemed to get a real kick out of the thunder and rain last week.

Here at the San Diego Zoo, our animals’ welfare is number one! If an animal appears to be having a difficult time, we will do out best to make sure that we can make them comfortable and figure out what may be the cause of any uneasiness. So with that being said, the storms that came through San Diego last week gave a few of our animals something new to say the least. On Tuesday, when the thunder began to move in, little Mr. Xiao Liwu decided that not only did he not like it, but that he wanted to seek shelter…inside!

Of course, animals in the wild are going to deal with this without the luxury of having a nice, climate controlled bedroom to run into. Since giant pandas are naturally found anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation, they deal with a whole multitude of weather conditions including snow and extreme humidity. But our Mr. Wu has had a different life experience.

The day of the storm, I was also giving a tour around the Zoo and animals everywhere had their own responses to smelling the rain and hearing the thunder. A particularly special treat was watching our baby giraffe running around and kicking her legs out playing in the falling drops. I’ve always told guests that the best time to go to the Zoo or even the Safari Park is right before or after a storm. All the animals can smell the change in the air and it’s always fun to watch them.

Over the 10 years I’ve been working around the pandas, I’ve had the opportunity to witness interesting behavior and great moments with the bears. One of those is panda cubs in the rain, and the aftermath. All of our animals have shelter in their enclosure so that if it begins to rain hard, they can get out of the rain and still be visible to the public. Panda cubs have really never disappointed in their playtime in the mud. Just as human kids like to jump in puddles and make a mess, panda cubs love to slide, roll, and jump in puddles and mud. One of my favorite memories of Yun Zi (born 2009) was a morning I had put him in the “garden room” of Bai Yun’s indoor area so that I could clean the bedroom. It had rained a little and as I was finishing up, here came Yun Zi, dripping with mud. Total “boy” move; he had rolled in the mud and had clearly had a blast.

So, keep your eye peeled for those awesome moments, and again try a visit just before or after a storm. You’ll be amazed at what you see the animals doing!

Anastasia Jonilionis is a panda narrator and keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous blog, Panda Cubs: Interesting Individuals.

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Panda Cubs: Interesting Individuals

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At almost three years old, Xiao Liwu is a bundle of adorable energy!

 

In my previous blog, Meanwhile, in Panda Canyon, I mentioned that Xiao Liwu is “so different from his siblings…” Many of you have asked me to share more about the ways Mr. Wu is different, so here we go. To give you a good idea of what I mean, let’s take a “refresher course” in all the cubs born at the San Diego Zoo.

In August of 1999, Bai Yun, gave birth to her first cub Hua Mei as a result of artificial insemination from Shi Shi, the first male in our breeding program. As the very first giant panda cub to survive in the US, Hua Mei was a new adventure for our care staff and veterinarian team. Our nursery staff was on standby, but day after day, Bai Yun amazed us with her attentiveness to and care of her cub. Hua Mei was a typical, curious cub that became playful with her mother as she grew. The world watched her grow and fell in love with her—and her mom—via Panda Cam.

Gao Gao, our current breeding male, came to San Diego in 2003. He had never bred before and was a bit smaller than we anticipated, but Gao Gao rose to the challenge, and we had our first successful mating followed by another successful live birth on August 3, 2003. Named Mei Sheng, the first male cub for Bai Yun kept up with Hua Mei in weight in the beginning, even though he was a little smaller measurement-wise—different paternal genes can make a difference in size of an animal. Personality-wise, Mei Sheng was a little more clingy to his mom than Hua Mei, but he also had a goofy side. I remember when I first started working in Panda Canyon, he would sometimes hang upside down from tree limbs and swing. He was great fun to watch and was always putting on a great show for guests.

Our next panda cub, Su Lin, was born in 2005. She was one of our smaller kiddos, and I would definitely call her an “old soul.” She was pretty mellow, and sometimes seemed more sensitive to environmental change. Su Lin was the first cub trained to be part of the giant panda hearing study. Su Lin ended up staying at the Zoo until she was five years old, and during that time she went through her first estrus. Watching her scent mark her enclosure and even investigate her bedroom for possible denning was always interesting for guests and staff.

The birth of Zhen Zhen in 2007 brought a whole new experience for keepers! Physically, she kept up with Mei Sheng’s weight patterns as she grew, but Zhen Zhen had a little more of a feisty attitude. She had a lot of energy and used it to give Bai Yun a “hard time.” Keepers had to start training to go into her bedroom with mom sooner rather than later because with all of that energy, she would often attempt to roughhouse with keepers when they tried to gather her up to bring her in. As she got older, she still maintained a high-energy personality and was notorious for breaking tree branches from trees while bouncing on them.

An interesting side note: when Su Lin and Zhen Zhen went to China in 2010, we got reports from keepers there that their personalities had switched a bit. Zhen Zhen had mellowed out, while Su Lin now much more sure of herself, was putting on quite high-energy act for staff in China!

In 2009 Yun Zi was born. Nicknamed “Monster” as a little cub, he was ALL boy. He had a “I’m a big, tough bear” attitude even as a young cub. At the time, I was on loan as a panda keeper and was working with him five days a week. In the mornings when we would attempt to get Yun Zi “out of bed”, we would use all the amazing enrichment items that our donors had provided, but nothing seemed to work. In the end, dried leaves were the thing that got him up and moving—he liked chasing them down the tunnel that leads into the exhibit. We had another challenge at the end of each day, when we needed to get him back into the bedroom with mom. On more than one occasion, Yun Zi would be sleeping in the corner of the exhibit and we would have to carry him off exhibit. But as soon as you put him down in the bedroom, he “magically” woke up and began running around! Yun Zi was the biggest cub we have had born here at the Zoo. On more than one occasion, he was more than 2 pounds bigger than his siblings at the same age. Today, living in China, he is over 235 pounds.

And that brings us to the afternoon of July 29, 2012 when a little bear named Xiao Liwu was born. After five kids, Bai Yun was well seasoned for this cub and often when we would watch her you could tell that she was all about letting this kid figure things out for himself. “Wu Bear” has been very independent and what he may have lacked in size he has more than made up for in focus. He has always been a mellow cub, and as keepers have said many times, “They broke the mold after Wu Bear!” When we began training him to cooperate with having his blood pressure taken, he was calm, confident, and extremely relaxed. Not much fazes him, and for the most part—from a keeper’s point of view—he has been the easiest cub to work with.

Xiao Liwu will be turning three years old soon, and with that age comes a whole new set of behaviors and energy bursts. Just the other day, I was watching him put on quite a show for guests, running around and breaking off branches from the bushes in the enclosure. He will continue to be fun to observe and has a very bright future ahead of him—just like his older siblings.

2012 PandaCubGrowth

This chart shows Xiao Liwu’s early develoment compared to his siblings. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Anastasia Jonilionis is a panda narrator and keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Meanwhile, In Panda Canyon.

Blog Monitor’s note: We have recently updated our Blog Comment Policy; please be sure to read it before leaving a comment.

69

Meanwhile, in Panda Canyon…

Handsome Gao Gao is currently on exhibit with his beloved 'boo.

Handsome Gao Gao is currently on exhibit with his beloved ‘boo, making his many fans very happy!

As we are fast approaching June and our busiest time of the year, I wanted to give all of you a quick update on the pandas. Everyone is doing well! Bai Yun is still in the North Classroom exhibit, and will be until further notice. At this time we are not able to give an answer to the ongoing question of Bai Yun’s maternity status.

However, we may know within the next few weeks if we are expecting another cub. Due to Bai Yun’s age and the very different breeding season that we had this year, none of us really know what to expect. Her last weight came in around 236.3 pounds (107.3 kilograms)—a good weight jump for her but again, it doesn’t mean she is pregnant. Giant pandas can go through pseudo or “false” pregnancies, in which the females show a number of behaviors and other indications leading us to believe they are expecting—but they are not!  In that case, the ultrasound comes into play. We will let you know as we gain more information, we will let you know.

Gao Gao is also doing very well. He is on exhibit and letting his fans have a peek! Currently weighing in at  168.7 pounds (76.7 kilograms), he has been eating well. He gets his blood pressure taken each week and continues to do well, but will be taking a break for a bit while the crate  for Bai Yun’s ultrasounds is prepared.

Xiao Liwu is terrific! Running around and putting on a great show for everyone visiting, and beginning to fill out. Currently weighing in at 135 pounds (61.8 kilograms). He is so different from his siblings, and it has really thrown us for a loop. With the five previous cubs, we have been able to anticipate the different stages that they go through. With this little guy, we have been surprised at every turn and really cannot wait to see what comes next!