A question was asked a while back about how a panda exhibit is designed. For any animal, a number of factors decide the eventual design of a San Diego Zoo exhibit. Architects create a concept using the space available and specific needs of the animal, working in conjunction with animal care staff. Once the size of the exhibit is established, the quality of that space is the focus. The habitat from which the animal originates, its temperature and/or humidity and/or photo period needs are considered. The design will take into account any specialized locomotion, resting, or hiding adaptations. One can see these factors in action on our panda exhibits.
Pandas are good climbers, so sturdy climbing structures are needed. They often prefer to rest off the ground, so structures should provide resting platforms or forks and bedrooms need to contain elevated options. Pandas prefer cooler over warmer weather. Exhibit fans and misters can be used when temps climb too high, and bedrooms are temperature-controlled. Pandas require a small pond through which they can walk or in which they can rest when the weather warms. Mature trees provide shade, and small plants are fun for the pandas to hide in or pull apart, as well as for general aesthetics. Periodically, sod is added for enrichment or grass seed put down in exhibits, but these have to be replenished due to wear and tear from the animals and from the raking done by the keepers when the exhibits are cleaned three times daily. A cave or large box can be provided for shelter. Sturdy bolts are positioned for hanging enrichment toys.
Currently, with five pandas in residence, we have a full house. Once Su Lin and Zhen Zhen move to China, we hope to be able to refurbish our panda exhibits. We have very large logs set aside for use in creating new climbing structures and a couple of mature trees will be added to one of the exhibits. These will be major renovations and will require the rental of a crane in order to lift and position these items within the exhibits. Thanks to our generous panda fans, money for the crane’s rental was successfully raised. This will be a good time to renew grass and smaller plants, too.
The renovations will be a lot of hard work for our own staff and for colleagues in other departments, such as Horticulture and Construction and Maintenance. However, the fun of watching the pandas explore and enjoy their remodeled homes will be well worth it!
Karen Barnes is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Keeper’s Day, Part 3.
Update: Su Lin and Zhen Zhen are continuing their crate training for their pending departure to China. Their move will come soon. We thank you all for your support as the Zoo prepares the duo for the next chapter in their life. They will be missed.