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About Author: Debbie Andreen

Posts by Debbie Andreen

3

Fishing Cats: It Takes Two

Fishing cats are native to southern Asia.

Fishing cats are native to southern Asia.

The San Diego Zoo has welcomed the birth of 34 fishing cats over the years, but we have not had a successfully breeding pair of endangered fishing cats since 1999. Our current fishing cat female, Parvati, gave birth to one kitten at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio. But our male, Bullet, is unproven and underrepresented, genetically speaking. It has been keeper Aimee Goldcamp’s sincere desire to see that Bullet has a chance to father some young. Bullet, on the other hand (or paw), isn’t quite as motivated.

You see, Bullet was hand raised at another facility before coming here, and, although he is larger, he is a bit intimidated by his potential mate, Parvati. I was surprised, therefore, when Aimee called me the other morning to say that Parvati was chittering, making the sound an adult female fishing cat makes when she is in estrous and wants the attentions of a male. I dashed over to record this unique sound to share with our blog readers. Yes, I’m always thinking of you!

When I arrived, Parvati was walking around the exhibit, emitting her call now and then. Rather than sounding inviting, the chitter seemed a little angry to me. Guests strolling by the exhibit thought she was telling her keeper it was time for food! But Aimee assured us all that Parvati only makes this sound when she is “in the mood,” and we all felt lucky to hear it. Unfortunately, our gibbon pair living nearby decided this was the time to make their morning territorial hoots and whoops, so it was difficult to record Parvati’s chitters without also getting some gibbon-speak!

Here’s an extremely short audio clip of Parvait’s chitter call:

Still, it was fascinating to watch Parvati pull out all the stops to entice Bullet to come out of the bedroom area and join her in the exhibit. In addition to calling and strolling by the bedroom door, Parvati rubbed her scent on rocks and logs and rolled around provocatively in the sand. Bullet did come to the door to watch her lolling beneath him, but he was unmoved to take action.

It is said that timing is everything, and that is true for cat courtship as well. I learned that the fishing cat exhibit had been closed for some remodeling, with new logs, vegetation, and fencing installed. Bullet had been surprised and a bit unnerved by the changes to his home of six years. Wouldn’t you know it? The day after the exhibit re-opened was the day Parvati felt her maternal calling!

Bullet may still come through for Parvati. After all, “romance” can happen in the off-exhibit bedroom areas as well. There are cameras mounted back there to record any happenings of interest. Who knows—we may yet hear the pitter-patter of little fishing cat paws again!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Scents for Polar Bears.

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Xiao Liwu’s First 2 Years

Here he comes. Watch out, snow!

Here he comes. Watch out, snow!

We’ve put together a fun video showing some of panda Xiao Liwu’s milestones (see below). The video was made for our San Diego Zoo Kids channel, a television broadcast channel featuring programming about unique and endangered animals species designed to entertain and educate guests about wildlife around the world. It is shown in select children’s hospitals on their in-room televisions. The channel features video from our famous Panda Cam as well as other live, online cameras, fun and educational pieces about a variety of animals, and up-close video encounters of popular animals with our national spokesperson, Rick Schwartz.

The San Diego Zoo Kids channel is funded by a generous gift by businessman and philanthropist Denny Sanford. We thought “Mr. Wu’s” many fans would like to see this video, too. Enjoy!


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Scents for Polar Bears

Kalluk thinks snow is the PERFECT enrichment for polar bears!

Kalluk thinks snow is the PERFECT enrichment for polar bears!

Lions and tigers love perfume and giant pandas enjoy the smell of cinnamon, but do the San Diego Zoo’s polar bears get a kick out of scent enrichment, too? Keeper Matt Price explained to me that although our Arctic bruins have impressive sniffers, they don’t go all crazy rubbing around in smelly things like some critters do!

Keepers do have an impressive arsenal of scents on hand for the animals in their care. Various perfumes, essential oils, spices, and even synthetic urine from other species are used from time to time to give our Zoo animals something different to experience, investigate, or delight in. The big cats and pandas roll around in the scent, seemingly trying to spread it all over their body. But the polar bears’ reaction is different: they give the new smell a good sniff and then go on with whatever activity they were doing—no big deal! So instead, Matt or his fellow keepers make a scent trail that leads the bear to a big payoff—an extra-special food treat or new toy. The bear follows the smell to the prize!

There is one type of scent enrichment that DOES get more of a reaction from our polar bears: camel and llama hair. Keepers collect the shed hair and place it in small piles for the bears, who roll around in it with great gusto!

Debbie Andreen is an editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Gao Gao: Class Clown.

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Gao Gao: Class Clown

Gao Gao was busy munching on his leafy bamboo this morning. Image taken from Panda Cam.

Gao Gao was busy munching on his leafy bamboo this morning. Image taken from Panda Cam.

Although our senior panda, Gao Gao, is still off exhibit, he is much improved after his May surgery (see post Surgery for Gao Gao). I spoke with Gaylene Thomas, animal care supervisor, to get the latest scoop on Papa Gao. She said he had additional dental work performed on a damaged/worn molar in June, and that procedure seemed to help guide him down Recovery Road—his appetite and energy have returned!

Being a born bamboo-eating machine, Gao Gao had always preferred to eat the thick bamboo culm, which was so hard on his teeth, rather than the much-gentler leafy bamboo. And that was just at the feedings when he was even interested in food; leading up to his May surgery, Gao Gao frequently exhibited lethargy and loss of appetite. But these days, our senior panda has taken to eating the leafy bamboo with renewed gusto, so there is no need to provide the thicker stuff for him. He is more active and animated, often exploring his yard and playfully seeking his keepers’ attention. Sometimes he does his playful antics to elicit tactile interaction: back or head scratches, provided by the keepers with the use of a wooden back scratcher. But sometimes he just does them to make his keepers smile! Who knew Gao could be such a clown?

So why do we continue to keep him in the off-exhibit north yard? Plain and simple: the Panda Team still wants to keep a close eye on him, and that side of the Giant Panda Research Station has a larger air-conditioned bedroom for him and much easier access to the area where his blood pressure is monitored. Gao Gao is eager to participate in these sessions once again, with apple slices and honey (or perhaps just that extra attention?) as his reward. Whatever the reason, Gaylene shared that she is “really happy he’s doing so well.” Me, too!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global.

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Xiao Liwu and Water

Come to Mr. Wu, bamboo!

Come to Mr. Wu, bamboo!

What is it about water and Mr. Wu? San Diego Zoo Keeper Jennifer Becerra reports that our precocious panda boy enjoys playing with tubs of ice cubs—and has even fallen asleep atop the ice in the tub. But once that ice has melted, out he comes! To encourage foraging behavior, keepers gave him the opportunity to bob for apples—but once he got his paw wet, the game was over.

Other attempts to get Xiao Liwu, who is almost two (sounds like a line from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, doesn’t it?), to forage for his food have failed. Wu does NOT like to work for his food. As Jennifer admitted, he is definitely Gao Gao’s son in that regard!

Thankfully, other forms of enrichment have been appreciated by the mini Gao Gao. You may have observed him resting on a “pillow,” a burlap coffee-bean bag filled with hay. And he has a new favorite scent: gingseng root. His blood pressure/blood draw training is progressing nicely, and he now rolls onto his side when asked—another training milestone.

Don’t tell Wu yet, but a birthday ice cake has been ordered for his big day on July 29. He should enjoy it, as long as it doesn’t melt!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global.

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Xiao Liwu: Star Student!

Xiao Liwu now eats more bamboo than his mother does!

Xiao Liwu now eats more bamboo than his mother does!

Keeper Jen Becerra passed along some updates on the San Diego Zoo’s panda family, starting with Xiao Liwu, who will be two years old next month (how time flies!). Jen claims “Mr. Wu” has been the easiest of Bai Yun’s six cubs to train, and she marvels how each of her cubs has been progressively smarter, with Mr. Wu at the head of the class! Yesterday he began training for blood draws and blood pressure checks, done with the help of a metal sleeve. The panda is asked to put his or her arm in the sleeve and grab the bar at the end (see post Still Ga Ga for Gao Gao.) An apple slice is placed near the end of the sleeve for the panda to grab for, and after several weeks of this, the bear learns to grab the bar at the end of that sleeve to receive the reward. Well, Xiao Liwu stuck his arm in the sleeve on his first try AND grabbed the bar on the end, as if he’d been doing it all his life! Jen kept using the word amazing to describe how the first day of this training went. Just a few months ago, keepers were concerned that Wu would be challenging to train because he prefers bamboo to other food items used for rewards. But it seems that for Mr. Wu, interaction with his keepers is reward enough!

Xiao Liwu has broadened his food menu but is still rather particular about its presentation. Still a huge fan of bamboo and apples, he has added to his repertoire low-starch, high-fiber biscuits (only if they are soaked in water first), and sweet potatoes and carrots (but only if they are cut into sticks). And speaking of bamboo, he now eats MORE of it than his mother, Bai Yun, does. Yes, you read that right! Wu polishes off 11 to 13 pounds (5 to 6 kilograms) of bamboo each day, whereas Bai Yun eats 8 to 11 pounds (4 to 5 kilograms). Gao Gao is the biggest eater of the three, downing 15 to 17 pounds (7 to 8 kilograms) daily. Xiao Liwu’s current weight is 84 pounds (38 kilograms).

Our growing boy seems quite comfortable in the main viewing exhibit and doesn’t call to his mother or look for her in any way. The feeling is mutual, as these days Bai Yun’s attitude is “It’s all about me!” When not eating his bamboo, Xiao Liwu spends time in buckets of ice or in front of the mister fan but doesn’t play much with his enrichment toys. Jen says he’s like “an adult bear in a small body.” Wu is a fan of various enrichment scents, with wintergreen, peppermint, and cinnamon his top three fragrances.

Gao Gao continues his recovery from his surgery and is spending more time in the north yard, off exhibit to guests but where he may be seen on Panda Cam. He still prefers hanging out in his bedroom suite, where keepers are at his beck and call. Jen admits that Gao Gao has come up with a special vocalization used just for them—a sweet, light bleat that seems to mean “Come here, please.” When the keeper comes, there is Papa Gao, pressed up to the mesh for a back scratch. Who could resist that request?

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global.

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Entertaining Panda Cub Xiao Liwu

Xiao Liwu relaxes in his off-exhibit bedroom next to his rocking "horse." See, he likes apples!

Xiao Liwu relaxes in his off-exhibit bedroom next to his rocking “horse.” See, he likes apples!

What has our panda cub been up to, now that he’s been on his own for a few weeks? Keeper Jennifer Becerra filled me in on all things “Wu,” and I’m eager to share what I learned with Xiao Liwu’s many fans!

Jennifer says Xiao Liwu, now 20 months old, is doing quite well. He is not as playful as his older siblings have been and instead has become a bamboo-eating machine. Now weighing 70.5 pounds (32 kilograms), “Mr. Wu” eats about 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of bamboo each day—a lot for a little bear! Shunning most non-bamboo food items, he is developing a taste for Fuji apple slices and applesauce. Lately, keepers have been blending steamed carrots, yams, applesauce, and banana-flavored biscuits into a mush for him. They serve the concoction in a metal pan, which you may have seen in his enclosure.

Lest you think Wu is all about food, don’t worry. He does enjoy playing in a long, plastic tray filled with ice cubes. He climbs all over a recycled plastic “rocking horse,” which is really in the shape of a whale, that is in his off-exhibit bedroom area. And you’ll be proud to know he is doing well with his training. He already urinates on command when he hears the words “go potty”! Being able to collect this vital fluid for periodic testing is part of our animal care protocol. Mr. Wu knows how to “target” or touch his nose to a target stick, and he knows to put his paws up, paws down, and to sit when asked to do so. He also enjoys his new bedding material, called excelsior hay, that is on top of the cave structure. This hay product was on his Wish List—thank you, donors!

Ice cubes feel good on a warm day!

This ice feels good on a warm day!

And then there are scents! Our pandas love to roll and anoint themselves with different odors. Their keepers found a fragrance company that provides a huge variety of choices. They all like the smell of cinnamon, but I found it interesting that each panda also has his or her favorites. For Mr. Wu, it’s wintergreen. Bai Yun enjoys those in the mint family: wintergreen, peppermint, and spearmint. Yun Zi, who is now living in China, loved honeysuckle and earthworm! And Gao Gao? He tends to lean toward more musky scents, but his all-time favorite is rubbing alcohol!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Delightful Tasmanian Devils.

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Delightful Tasmanian Devils

Tasmanian devil Nick gets eye to eye with our photographer.

Tasmanian devil Nick gets eye to eye with our photographer.

They didn’t scream or spin around like whirling dervishes, but I found them exciting just the same as this morning we proudly unveiled the exhibit area for our new Tasmanian devils (see post Introducing our Devils). What a wonderful addition they make to the San Diego Zoo’s Australian Outback! Each of our four devils has his or her own enclosure, as these are solitary animals in the wild. Guests can view three of the enclosures, and right now, that’s where the three males—Conrad, Nick, and Jake—live. A fourth enclosure is further back and much more private, and that’s where our female, Debbie, resides at present. We are currently the only zoo in North America to have these interesting animals, and we hope to share their conservation story with our guests.

Dignitaries representing Australia and its island state of Tasmania, which is where Tasmanian devils hail from, spoke at the opening ceremony. The Honorable Brian Wightman MP, minister for environment, parks, and heritage in Tasmania, related that wild devil populations have dropped dramatically due to a deadly cancer called devil facial tumor disease. Tasmania has already lost a valuable animal, the Tasmanian tiger or thylacine, to disease and human encroachment, and Mr. Wightman said his state is determined to keep from losing another native carnivore by working with global partners. San Diego Zoo Global is a proud partner of the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, which is based in Tasmania. Karen Lanyon, consul-general for the Australian consulate general, mentioned that the links between our zoo and her country are “getting stronger,” and she welcomed the devils to “her patch” of southern California. She told me later that the devils’ new home was “gorgeous!”

Alistair Scott, the general manager of resource management and conservation for the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment in Tasmania, admitted that Tasmanians “like to do things ourselves,” but as the devil facial tumor disease has worked its way across the state, asking for help from global partners is the right thing to do. Here’s more information on the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program

For now, our keepers are pleased that the four devils are settling in nicely to their new home and are coping well with their first look at Zoo guests. Their enclosures are filled with soft mulch for the digging activities devils crave, as well as a variety of bushes and ferns, which provide cover for the animals if wanted. What’s really neat are the dens attached to two of the enclosures: when a devil goes inside the cozy den, guests can get up nice and close for some eye-to-eye views, courtesy of the glass panels.

I learned that Jake likes to pull out newly planted vegetation and bring it into his den, which is fun for us to watch but will keep our horticulture staff busy! Nick, apparently, is the most active of the devils and seems to be a people-watcher. During the ceremony, I could see him on his hind legs in his glass-walled den, looking on with great interest! With his mouth, Conrad grabbed a large cow knuckle bone, which had to be heavy, as if it were a breakfast pastry and took off with it to parts unknown. Mr. Wightman told me that listening to devils crunch on bones is a sound you never forget! Debbie (love that name!) is the timid and shy devil of the group, yet she and Jake can see each other through a glass panel separating their enclosures, and keepers told me that both animals seem to enjoy this visual enrichment.

How will you know “who is who” when you come to welcome them? Each enclosure has a sign with the devil’s name and a bit about its personality. I was smitten with these animated animals. I hope you will be, too!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, The Scoop on Panda Poop.

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The Scoop on Panda Poop

Yun Zi munches his bamboo like a pro!

Yun Zi munches his bamboo like a pro!

I spoke with panda narrator Alyssa Medeiros to get the latest on our bamboo bears. Alyssa has been helping the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Team as a panda keeper these days and promises to write a blog about that experience when she can. In the meantime, she shared some fun stuff about our two youngest bears.

Yun Zi is a typical “teenaged mess maker,” according to Alyssa. This four year old panda continues to rip and shred anything he can get his paws on. Yet his most challenging mess for keepers to clean is his location of choice for bathroom duties. Yun Zi has decided that the top of the artificial den is the perfect spot. Why does this make extra work for his caretakers? The poop goes into the den’s nooks and crannies, making it more difficult to clean. Apparently, he cares not!

Xiao Liwu, nicknamed Mr. Wu, is now leaving “treasures” behind. Previously, his mother, Bai Yun, would clean up any waste her cub left behind, presumably so predators would not be alerted to his presence. But now that he is larger and starting to ingest, rather than just mouth, bamboo leaves, he is producing “little gifts.” Apparently, Bai Yun is willing to let keepers dispose of them these days. Talk about room service! Alyssa says that Mr. Wu is also chewing on sticks and attempting to peel the larger bamboo culms—an advanced skill for a panda boy of just 14 months. He has not attempted to chew those culms yet but often mouths some of Bai Yun’s shredded leftovers.

Xiao Liwu’s training sessions continue, and Alyssa is quite proud of his progress. He has learned to touch his nose to a pool buoy on a stick (it looks like a very large Q-tip!) and to a dot on the wall for a honey water reward. And he is getting better at shifting off the exhibit and into his bedroom when asked.

Thank you for the update, Alyssa!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Our Panda Family.

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Our Panda Family

Mother and son enjoy a playful moment on Panda Cam.

Mother and son enjoy a playful moment on Panda Cam.

What’s that little panda rascal been up to these days? I spoke with Senior Keeper Kathy Hawk this morning to get the latest on the panda family at the San Diego Zoo. Let’s start with Xiao Liwu, our one-year-old cutie. He likes to do things on his own time. Kathy knows he knows what is expected of him when keepers call him to come over to the back fence line for some of that tasty honey water, and to then shift into his bedroom, but he doesn’t always feel like coming. Sometimes he’d just rather stay up in his favorite tree or nap in his hammock. Kathy assured me this is very typical of cubs this age!

“Mr. Wu” is eating bits of bamboo leaves and stems and apple slices but is still more interested in Mama Bai Yun’s milk bar, which again is natural at this age. In a few months, he’ll become more food motivated. Kathy mentioned that he is more aware of and interested in his surroundings rather than just focused on what Mom is doing. Mr. Wu now weighs 53 pounds (24 kilograms).

Bai Yun is “looking really good,” says Kathy. She is eating well and maintaining a nice, consistent weight for a nursing panda at 214 pounds (97.3 kilograms). And we all saw how much she enjoyed her birthday cake two weeks ago!

Her older son, Yun Zi, had his annual vaccination and his very first blood draw, with Keeper Jen Becerra assisting. You may notice the shaved spot on his arm. Kathy was very proud of his cooperation with Jen during this procedure. Four-year-old Yun Zi now weighs 197.7 pounds (89.7 kilograms), long ago surpassing his father in heft. What a big boy!

Gao Gao is also doing well, keeping cool and comfy in his off-exhibit area. Apparently, our father panda has never been a fan of warmer weather but doesn’t always exercise common sense about finding ways to cool off. Therefore, keepers proactively bring him into his air-conditioned bedrooms if it starts to get too warm for him. Kathy shared that Gao Gao LOVES attention from his keepers and solicits back scratches from them by calling to them, rubbing up against the chain link safety barriers, or sucking on his paws in a way that she said is so endearing that she can’t help but give him a scritch or two. To help with his digestion on warmer days, he is given probiotics, hidden in a Gao Gao favorite: applesauce. His preferred position for enjoying this treat? On his back, looking adorable! I sense another back scratch coming…

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Xiao Liwu: A Gentle Soul.