You may recall that in early June, keepers began training giant panda Xiao Liwu to have his blood pressure taken (see post
). “Mr. Wu” learned to put his forelimb (arm) in the metal sleeve and lightly grab the bar at the end of that sleeve with his claws the first day of training. That was Step 1. But what were the next steps? Keeper Liz Simmons filled me in.
Step 2: Panda to keep arm in metal sleeve for increased lengths of time.
This was easy, says Liz. As long as Mr. Wu was getting rewarded for calmly staying in one spot with his arm in the metal sleeve, he was happy to sit there all day! Squirts of honey water were the big ticket items for our boy, but he was (and still is) also willing to do this step for pieces of apple, carrot, sweet potato, and biscuits (soaked, not dry).
Step 3: Get panda used to having arm touched.
Talk about a fun task! Keepers touched, poked, and rubbed Xiao Liwu’s arm while it was in the sleeve. He, of course, had been touched a lot when he was small, but now that he’s such a big bear (almost 100 pounds), keepers might give his ears or head a scratch through the metal mesh but don’t usually touch his arms. He had to get comfortable with them touching his arm. No problem!
Step 4: Wrap blood pressure cuff around panda’s arm.
We use the same type of blood pressure cuff used for humans, but in Mr. Wu’s case, a child-size one. This step involved pulling apart the Velcro strips and attaching the cuff to our two-ear-old bear’s arm so he could get used to the feel of the cuff. YIKES—Wu did NOT like the sound of the Velco ripping apart! He had never heard that sound before.
Step 5: Get panda used to sound of Velcro ripping.
Liz ripped the Velcro in Xiao Liwu’s vicinity every chance she got to get him used to this new sound. She even called him over to her while he was on exhibit and ripped that Velcro. It didn’t take long for Mr. Wu to become desensitized to the sound of Velcro. (Now, when I hear Velcro ripping, I’ll always think of our panda boy!)
Step 6: Wrap blood pressure cuff around panda’s arm (again)
With Velcro issues a thing of the past, keepers could now proceed to wrap the cuff on his arm. No problem this time!
Step 7: Get panda used to having his arm squeezed.
Once the cuff was in place, a keeper squeezed her hand around the cuff to simulate the feel of a blood pressure squeeze. No problem there!
Step 8: Hook up cuff to blood pressure machine, place cuff on panda, and take a reading.
On November 3, 2014, Xiao Liwu had his first blood pressure reading. Actually, he was so comfortable and calm during the procedure that keepers took three readings. Mr. Wu has passed!
For now, these blood pressure readings will provide a baseline for our medical team. They will be done every week or so, as time allows. Xiao Liwu is happy to cooperate. Liz says he “really like to work!”
Next up for our star student? Blood-draw training.
Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Pandas On and Off.