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429

Birthday Plans for Xiao Liwu

Will Xiao Liwu come down from the tree for his birthday cake? Stay tuned!

Will Xiao Liwu come down from the tree for his birthday cake? Stay tuned!

It’s that time of the year again to order the birthday cake, wrap the presents, and celebrate with the San Diego Zoo—Mr. Wu’s first birthday is on Monday, July 29! This is a milestone for the Zoo, and we are the fortunate ones to celebrate our sixth panda first birthday with this “little gift.”

I placed the order for Mr. Wu’s birthday cake on July 1, as it takes our Forage Team around a month to plan and create their world-famous ice cakes. Our Forage Team folks always have amazing ideas and are very creative with their cakes. I continue to be amazed at what they can do with ice, and so are the bears! I am always tempted to take an early look at the cake, but I never do, as I like to keep it a surprise. The cake is always bigger and better than the year before.

Make sure you join us for Xiao Liwu’s special day and wear your favorite panda-themed clothes or something black, white, and red (we panda keepers will be in red for the occasion). Mr. Wu will have his cake presentation around 8:45 a.m. for special donors and the media, and the Zoo opens at 9 a.m. Make sure you are getting your cameras ready and/or watching Panda Cam!

There will not be snow in the forecast for his birthday, because he is not shifting off exhibit consistently yet, and we do not want to frighten him with the loud snow-blowing machines. There will be snow in the next month or so—we will let you know the exact date once that’s been determined. But be prepared that Mr. Wu might be enjoying his birthday festivities from high in the trees if anything makes him a little nervous. He has also made a Wish List for his birthday that will be posted on July 29. We’ll provide the link at that time.

By the way, Mr. Wu weighs 40 pounds (18 kilograms) now.

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Comparing Panda Brothers.

145

Xiao Liwu: Meeting those Milestones

Mother and cub engage in a wrestling session.

Mother and cub engage in a wrestling session.

I have had the opportunity to observe panda mother and son, Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu, quite a bit lately, and I have noted that the cub’s behavioral development appears right on track with respect to his siblings. He is at an exciting age for a panda, a time when the learning curve is a little less steep than it was a few months back, and Xiao Liwu is busy exploring every nook and cranny of his environment…when he isn’t napping, of course. Babies do need their rest!

One of the major milestones our little boy is working on is bamboo feeding. Now, he isn’t yet ingesting it as a food staple. Xiao Liwu still relies on mother bear to provide him with milk to satisfy his caloric needs. But he is learning to handle the leafy material, working it in his paws and practicing with his pseudothumb. The cub spends time mouthing bamboo, stuffing a leaf or two in his mouth and chewing, chewing, chewing…until he ultimately spits it out. No doubt there has been some incidental ingestion of the plant, but as the necessary teeth are not all in place yet (that occurs at about 12 months of age), he doesn’t have the tools with which to begin efficiently processing bamboo. That time is coming soon, however, and in the next few months, we will begin to see him regularly ingesting the plant that will become his staple dietary ingredient.

Play is an important part of his behavioral repertoire at this time. Play is often scientifically defined as an apparently purposeless behavior, because it doesn’t provide an obvious payoff. It doesn’t help a panda obtain food, or secure a mate, or ensure safety and survival. Yet for a cub, play is an important part of healthy development. Locomotory play, including frisking about on the ground and twirling around in the trees, helps to develop strength and coordination as the cub learns to control his growing body. Object play allows the cub to effect control over elements in his environment, influencing the development of his confidence and coordination. Social play teaches him the nuances of interacting with others of his species, including how to read and deliver appropriate social cues. Yet this “purposeless behavior” may only seem purposeless in the immediate sense. There are payoffs down the road, associated with neurological development and perhaps even learned behavior.

Play is a behavior that peaks in the late juvenile period before bottoming out as the bear becomes an adult. Interestingly, the juvenile period is also the time of greatest growth of that portion of the brain known as the cerebellum, an area that plays a role in coordinating smooth motor function. Adulthood, as we all know, is the time when we take on the mantle of caring for ourselves, and for the panda that means spending most of its waking hours foraging and feeding. There must also be time for procuring a mate or rearing young. There is little time for frivolity, and efficiency matters. By the time a mammal has reached adulthood, its neurological development is complete, and it can now reap the benefits of what its brain has been trained to do.

But while scientists are still unraveling the mysteries of the function of play, you can simply witness the fun as Xiao LiWu continues on his developmental journey. Enjoy it while he is little, either in person or on Panda Cam, because one thing this scientist can tell you definitively: watching that panda cub play is absolutely charming!

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Through the Bear Lens.

401

New Digs for Xiao Liwu

Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu relax in the off-exhibit garden room.

Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu relax in the off-exhibit garden room.

Big changes are happening for our almost eight-month-old panda boy, Xiao Liwu, as we do a panda exhibit swap (it sounds like a dance, doesn’t it?) at the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Trek. Gao Gao was moved from the exhibit in the main viewing area Monday night, and that exhibit was then cub-proofed for Mr. Wu’s arrival this morning. This included a lot of tree trimming, which had  not been needed for his more earth-bound father, Gao Gao!

During this transition time, the cub is learning to negotiate the access tunnel that leads him from his bedroom suite to a brand-new world of delights. This morning he was given access to that exhibit and immediately climbed up the tall pine tree, a typical response for a cub his age. Mother and cub have access to their bedroom in case they want a little retreat now and then for the next few days, so you may or may not see them, depending on their wishes. We regret that this means that some Zoo guests and Panda Cam viewers may not be able to see the youngest panda at all times. We apologize for this inconvenience but know that our panda fans will understand that sometimes our need to care for our pandas takes precedence over making them available for viewing. Soon, however, adoring fans will be able to see little brother in the enclosure next to big brother Yun Zi’s enclosure in the main viewing area all day long.

Gao Gao will move to Mr. Wu’s former haunt, the north/classroom exhibit, later this week. The north exhibit will be open to private tours and education programs only, but Gao can still be seen on Panda Cam. Yun Zi will continue to be in his exhibit with his new artificial tree.

We still have another exhibit renovation to do to Yun Zi’s exhibit, adding more plants and sod. Plus, keepers hope to add a cross log to the Keebler so they can rehang his hammock and have places to attach his swing.

One other change that will be happening has to do with comments sent to all our blogs. Soon, all comments will post automatically–you won’t have to wait for a moderator to approve your comments! We hope this will increase your enjoyment of our blog section and give you a chance to more quickly and easily interact with other panda fans. Please know that due to the increased volume on our many social media channels, we will be unable to respond to all comments or questions. Comments will be monitored and any comment that is deemed inappropriate will be removed. This change will occur later this week and will be noted in the comment box. Enjoy!

Debbie Andreen is a blog moderator (soon to be blog monitor!) and associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global.

19

Panda Party for Mr. Wu

Just wait until Mr. Wu sees his birthday ice cake!

Just wait until Mr. Wu sees his birthday ice cake!

Xiao Liwu’s birthday party is just around the corner—July 29! The time does fly by fast as this little panda guy is turning 2! Come join us to celebrate his birthday starting at 9 a.m. in the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Trek! If you cannot join us in person, make sure you tune in to the Panda Cam at about 8:50 a.m., when “Mr. Wu” is scheduled to come out on exhibit. Our Forage Department has been putting their creative caps on and working hard for a couple of weeks to make another masterpiece cake (and they get better and better every year, don’t they?). I have only seen a sneak peek of this one, and it has a Day at the Beach theme. All Wu fans are invited—make sure you wear your sunscreen, best beach hat, and flip flops for this big event! We will see what Mr. Wu thinks of water after this day!

Xiao Liwu now weighs 88 pounds (40 kilograms). And what would Mr. Wu want for his birthday? A $14 donation to the Zoo’s Animal Care Wish List goes toward our enrichment program, which funds items such as new hammocks, perfumes (his favorite scents are ginseng root, wintergreen, and cinnamon), materials to make a slide, and some edible goodies, which can enrich the lives for so many of our animals. You can also Adopt a Panda, which helps fund the Zoo’s enrichment program, and perhaps take home your own panda plush to call Mr. Wu.

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, “Go Potty,” Xiao Liwu.

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Our Panda Conservation Program

Bai Yun has been a wonderful ambassador for pandas.

Bai Yun has been a wonderful ambassador for pandas.

When Bai Yun arrived at the San Diego Zoo back in November 1996, we all had great expectations for the San Diego Zoo’s panda conservation program. And we knew that these expectations rested squarely on Bai Yun’s beautiful black-and-white shoulders. In the years since, our panda conservation program has grown and has achieved a number of notable successes.

At the center of it all is Bai Yun. Of course, Gao Gao, too, has been extremely important to the success of our breeding program at the San Diego Zoo. Not all male pandas show appropriate breeding behavior, so Gao Gao’s arrival in San Diego in 2003 enabled us to fulfill our goal of studying giant panda reproduction, from breeding to maternal care. However, Bai Yun’s importance to our conservation program goes beyond her successes as a mother, as she has truly exemplified the role of conservation ambassador. Engaging and fascinating the public for the last 18 years, she is the quintessential giant panda, emblematic of the inherent beauty and value of wildlife.

Bai Yun will be 23 years old in September. For those of us who have watched her over the years, we are amazed at her consistent good health, youthful behavior, and appearance. However, this year, her estrous behavior has not been what it has been in the past. Can Bai Yun be heading toward reproductive senescence? Heading into her 23rd year, the answer, most likely, is yes; however, we won’t know for sure until next spring. As of this writing, Bai Yun has not shown more than a minimal level of the behavioral changes that are typically associated with estrus. Back in March, we saw a bit of scent marking and some water walking, behaviors that normally indicate that estrus is coming. However, the expression of these behaviors did not escalate, and soon after they began, they ceased. Since then, Bai Yun has been “quiet.” While estrus can occur into June, the vast majority of breeding, including for our bears here, occurs in March and April,

When Bai Yun gave birth to Xiao Liwu in 2012, it was widely noted that she was the second-oldest giant panda to give birth. While an impressive statistic, that notable milestone provided us with valuable information regarding the finite nature of a female’s biological capacity to produce offspring. Male giant pandas, like other male mammals, can theoretically sire offspring later in life, though for wild pandas, other factors may get in the way of this, including competition with other males for breeding access to females and choosy females that may not be interested.

Bai Yun has given birth to 6 cubs over the past 15 years. While some other females have given birth to 10 or more cubs, the number of litters a female has is typically no more than 6 or 7. For example, between 2004 and 2013, Bai Yun’s first daughter, Hua Mei, has had 10 cubs from 7 litters. While Hua Mei is 8 years younger than Bai Yun, it will be interesting to see whether or not she has more cubs in the coming years. These contrasting mother-daughter patterns are at the heart of one of our research questions: What are the limits of reproductive output in the species?

In some panda breeding facilities, cubs are weaned earlier in order to promote successive annual breeding opportunities. In other facilities, cubs are weaned at about 18 months, mimicking what we believe is the more natural timing of weaning. In these cases, females will only be able to breed every two years. Given this, we might expect to see females that breed every year producing 15 litters over their reproductive lives. However, this does not appear to be the case.

Understanding what governs female reproductive output in giant pandas has implications for both captive breeding and conservation of wild giant pandas, and we are currently analyzing a fairly large volume of data to address this question. Is reproductive output governed exclusively by chronological age? Or is it governed in part by health and vigor? And how does variation in inter-birth-interval (the time between successive pregnancies) influence a female’s lifetime reproductive output? We hope to have some answers to these questions in the coming months.

I have to admit that I never get tired of watching our giant pandas here at the San Diego Zoo. While the excitement of a new cub is undeniable, I know that I will enjoy watching Bai Yun and Gao Gao relax this summer, while young Xiao Liwu explores and plays, enjoying his first summer as a solo panda. Our panda family exemplifying their roles as ambassadors for conservation!

Panda Yun Zi in China.

Update on panda Gao Gao, May 11, 2014: Thank you for all the Gao Gao well wishes! He is doing well post surgery and is enjoying spending time in his back bedrooms. There he is catered to by his keepers 3 to 4 times a day, and he lets them know when he wants back scratches. Gao does have access daily to an off-view exhibit that has a panda camera in it, although he seems to prefer to enjoy the air-conditioned bedrooms, his black sleeping tub, and his keepers’ attention.

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Ready for Panda-Monium 2014?

Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu can sometimes create their own panda-monium!

Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu can sometimes create their own panda-monium!

Hello Panda Fans,

It is time once again to announce Panda-Monium! This will be our fifth year gathering together at the San Diego Zoo. The dates are March 21 and 22, 2014. Please see the linked poster pdf for basic information. Send an email to our address right away at pandaconvention@yahoo.com and you will receive the full information packet. All of the forms are in there for registration and T-shirts as well as info about the Meet and Greet Friday night, Zoo day and Evening Reception on Saturday, and how to make your hotel reservations if you would like to stay at our discounted rate.

Please join us and mingle with other panda fans over the weekend. We’ll have the opportunity to spend time with the pandas before the public arrives on Saturday. Suzanne Hall, senior researcher at the Giant Panda Research Station, will be our speaker during a breakfast buffet in the Rondavel. We have been honored to have Suzanne as our speaker in the past and have so enjoyed her talks and company. We learn something new every time! There is a question-and-answer period at the end of Suzanne’s presentation, so you can ask all those questions you have. The Zoo Experience includes your Zoo pass for the day.

Our Saturday Evening Celebration is at the hotel. Details are in the invitation packet about some of the awards that we will be presenting ~ but there are more! If you choose to wear black and white, you could win the Best Black & White Attire award. We will have awards and door prizes, hot and cold appetizers, a no-host bar, and lots of panda fans mingling. It is fun to put faces to names from the blog and Facebook.

Our T-shirt this year will be sapphire, same company as previously. If you are unable to attend, you may still order a T-shirt. Contact pandaconvention@yahoo.com for the details.

Space is once again limited to the first 50 people to pay AND submit their registration form. We must have BOTH the payment and the registration form for your registration to be final.

Looking forward to seeing you in San Diego!

Panda Convention Coordinators

25

Pandas: Back in Main View

Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu, caught on camera this week

Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu, caught on Panda Cam this week

Pandas are officially back in the main viewing area of Panda Canyon at the San Diego Zoo. I think the cub, Xiao Liwu, is thrilled to have his favorite branch back, and Bai Yun is still trying to fit on that little hammock to take her naps. Yun Zi has plenty to keep him busy with his climbing structures and, of course, scent marking the exhibit. In fact, that was the first thing I noticed them doing when they were put back into the area; Bai Yun spent most of the day marking her territory again, mainly on the ground, and Yun Zi was even getting some handstands in there on the wall.

I’ve had a lot of questions from guests coming into the area about why we needed to close the main viewing exhibit for a while. The primary reason for closing the exhibit was to re-roof the building; after removing the old roof, additional structural repairs were completed. We also had a new cool zone pump installed. Whenever we close the exhibit, we try to get as many projects done as possible!

The first thing I noticed was how cut back many of the branches were, and they were able to cut quite a bit of the bamboo behind and around the exhibits. Cutting the branches is important for everyone’s peace of mind; although the pandas don’t jump from branches, we want to make sure that our perimeter is secure and that each bear stays inside. The bamboo trimming is also important for the health of the bamboo, to provide sunlight and ventilation. Several guests have noted that it is much easier to see the cub when he is at the top of the pine tree now that there aren’t as many branches blocking the view. Also, cutting down bamboo makes it easier for keepers to look into exhibits and possibly work with the bears along the back fence line.

Keepers were also able to put fresh soil and mulch down around the enclosure, and the bears are having a blast in it. Bai Yun and the cub have been rolling in the mulch and playing quite a bit in it. Yun Zi has also been rolling around in it, so much so that guests are asking if the pandas are unusually dirty these days. We always like to see the bears being this active, and I know that our Panda Cam viewers and guests love to have these moments on camera.

Mom and cub have been quite entertaining these days, especially when Bai Yun is trying to eat her lunch. One thing I definitely notice with this cub is how patient she is with him. I actually saw Xiao Liwu take a piece of bamboo that she was eating right out of her mouth and sit in her lap while he ate it. I’ve seen previous cubs TRY this with Bai Yun, and they were usually sent rolling down the hill! Stealing her food was something Bai Yun didn’t normally put up with. This cub, in my book, has gotten away with more than any other cub I’ve seen before.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and keep an eye on the Panda Cam!

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Long Time, No See Bears.

0

Panda Affairs

Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their job and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

Suzanne Hall is a Senior Research Technician doing behavioral research at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Although she splits her time between the Zoo and Safari Park locations, one of her projects involves the very special giant panda. Pandas have been difficult subject for biologists to study because not much has been known about their activity in the wild and they do not naturally reproduce well in zoos. With the research of Ms. Hall and other scientists at institutes around the world, we hope to continue improving the population and quality of life for these iconic bears.

The interns met with Ms. Hall at the Giant Panda Research Center. She gave us an introduction to her work: observing the behavior of animals in order to learn more about their physical, mental, and emotional needs – both in zoos and in the wild.

The interns met with Ms. Hall at the Giant Panda Research Center. She gave us an introduction to her work: observing the behavior of animals in order to learn more about their physical, mental, and emotional needs – both in zoos and in the wild.

Ms. Hall uses an “ethogram” to precisely record panda activity over a given interval of time. Ethograms are lists of behaviors commonly seen among an animal species, such as eating, climbing, urinating, and playing. There are so many distinguishable activities, in fact, that the real ethogram for pandas was at one point more than 30 pages long! Each behavior is given a code so that notes can be taken very quickly, without having to write out the phrase “feed on provisioned food” every time the behavior is seen.

Ms. Hall uses an “ethogram” to precisely record panda activity over a given interval of time. Ethograms are lists of behaviors commonly seen among an animal species, such as eating, climbing, urinating, and playing. There are so many distinguishable activities, in fact, that the real ethogram for pandas was at one point more than 30 pages long! Each behavior is given a code so that notes can be taken very quickly, without having to write out the phrase “feed on provisioned food” every time the behavior is seen.

Interns were given a data sheet to record our observations while we were visiting the panda exhibit, to simulate the way researchers take actual data. Under “all occurences” we wrote the code for any behavior performed by our subject animal for more than five seconds. After each minute of observation, we would move to the next row. In the “pt. sam.” column we wrote down the activity the animal was doing at the exact moment our 60 second timer went off, known as a point sample.

Interns were given a data sheet to record our observations while we were visiting the panda exhibit, to simulate the way researchers take actual data. Under “all occurences” we wrote the code for any behavior performed by our subject animal for more than five seconds. After each minute of observation, we would move to the next row. In the “pt. sam.” column we wrote down the activity the animal was doing at the exact moment our 60 second timer went off, known as a point sample.

The San Diego Zoo currently has four pandas: Bai Yun and her sons Yun Zi and Xiao Liwu, as well as their father Gao Gao. On the day we visited, Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu were the only two that we observed during our behavioral study with Ms. Hall, but our ethogram notes were only taken in regards to Bai Yun.

The San Diego Zoo currently has four pandas: Bai Yun and her sons Yun Zi and Xiao Liwu, as well as their father Gao Gao. On the day we visited, Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu were the only two that we observed during our behavioral study with Ms. Hall, but our ethogram notes were only taken in regards to Bai Yun.

Pandas’ main food source is bamboo and get offered up to 40 pounds of it a day! Funnily enough, pandas are picky about their bamboo: it can’t be too dry or too old, etc. Behaviorists like Ms. Hall have noticed that Bai Yun will often inspect each piece of bamboo before she eats it, discarding some and consuming others.

Pandas’ main food source is bamboo and get offered up to 40 pounds of it a day! Funnily enough, pandas are picky about their bamboo: it can’t be too dry or too old, etc. Behaviorists like Ms. Hall have noticed that Bai Yun will often inspect each piece of bamboo before she eats it, discarding some and consuming others.

The San Diego Zoo has had a number of pandas come and go from their facility. One wall contained pictures of the pandas the Zoo has had: Bai Yun, Shi Shi, Gao Gao, Hua Mei, Su Lin, Yun Zi, Mei Sheng, and Zhen Zhen. Xiao Liwu has yet to get a picture on this family-photo wall.

The San Diego Zoo has had a number of pandas come and go from their facility. One wall contained pictures of the pandas the Zoo has had: Bai Yun, Shi Shi, Gao Gao, Hua Mei, Su Lin, Yun Zi, Mei Sheng, and Zhen Zhen. Xiao Liwu has yet to get a picture on this family-photo wall.

Young pandas are not strong enough to eat tough foods like bamboo, and spend about the first year of life drinking only their mother’s milk. Towards the end of that year, the cub will begin trying to eat small stalks of bamboo. In fact, little Xiao Liwu has only recently begun eating bamboo. His mother, on the other hand, dedicates approximately twelve hours per day to eating.

Did you know that we don’t actually own any of these adorable animals? It’s true: this favorite Zoo attraction is actually a nationally protected species from China, and we care for them on loan from their home country. It takes an international collaboration to preserve this fragile species.

Did you know that we don’t actually own any of these adorable animals? It’s true: this favorite Zoo attraction is actually a nationally protected species from China, and we care for them on loan from their home country. It takes an international collaboration to preserve this fragile species.

Laura, Photo Team
Week Five, Fall Session 2013

 

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Long Time, No See Bears

Bai Yun seems to like the spotlight!

Bai Yun seems to like the spotlight!

Working at the San Diego Zoo for nine years now, I’ve been able to have some amazing experiences and opportunities. One of my most recent was to go on a three-month loan to work on the Elephants Odyssey team taking care of dromedary camels, Baja pronghorn, wild burros, and a very sweet Mustang named Mo. As my loan came to an end, I was sad to leave the animals I had come to love but was curious to see how the pandas were doing, especially our little boy, Xiao Liwu!

On my first day back as a panda narrator, Bai Yun was, of course, her charming self, seeming to pose while she slept and giving her admirers good views of her while she ate. I was also lucky enough to see little Xiao Liwu roughhousing with his mother and eating thinner pieces of bamboo with great enthusiasm. When I had left on my loan, he was still just nursing, so this was awesome to see.

Mr. Yun Zi was also climbing up his trees in the neighboring enclosure and putting on a show for guests. One of the trees always sheds a lot of leaves, and it was so fun to watch him shake the tree and see how many leaves he could knock off. When I first put him on exhibit as a new little cub, his favorite “toy” we used to lure him out of his bedroom was a dried leaf. Seeing him play brought back those memories of him jumping in piles of leaves and chewing on crunchy, dried-up leaves.

As we get into the cooler months of the year, it’s always fun to watch the different activity levels of the bears and the fun enrichment that comes with it. Come see us soon!

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, What about Gao Gao?

51

Panda Narrator to Panda Keeper

Xiao Liwu is getting big and confident.

Xiao Liwu is getting big and confident.

Over the past two months, I have been helping the San Diego Zoo’s panda keepers. It has been more than thrilling—I didn’t have any expectations, and yet those “non-expectations” were somehow exceeded! Being a panda narrator has been a great experience, and I have learned so much about an animal so few get to actually see up close. After watching these amazing bears and talking about them for three years with our guests, I was delighted to respond with a “YES!” when asked to help the keepers, before I even knew all the details. This will be the first of a few blogs about how each day occurs down in Panda Canyon.

I clock in at the Zoo at 6 a.m. The day starts with prepping medicine for the musk deer that the panda keepers also take care of and meds for adult panda Gao Gao. He gets peppermint Tums calcium supplementation—Gao loves them! We also sort the daily produce and biscuit treats and make Gao Gao’s bamboo bread, which smells a lot like tamales! Gao’s bread is a softer substitution to his diet and includes low-starch, high-fiber biscuits, dried bamboo leaves, water, and plain gelatin to stick it all together before it is steamed for 50 minutes; he gets 3 loaves a day, which round out to be about 25 ounces (700 grams) each.

Once that is all prepped, we shift the bears into their bedroom areas and start cleaning their exhibits. The morning cleanup is always the longest, mainly because the pandas make such a mess overnight, plus we rake up other leaves and debris throughout the exhibits. Bai Yun and Yun Zi are usually awake and waiting for us; young Xiao Liwu is, 80 percent of the time, still asleep up in the tree. When “Mr. Wu” is awake and on the ground, he usually shifts off exhibit when asked, with some honey water as an incentive. He is much bigger up close than you would expect but still as cute as ever!

Once the bears are in their back bedrooms, we give Bai Yun and Yun Zi some bamboo culm (the hard stalk) as a snack while they wait for us to clean. If Mr. Wu shifts off, we give him some thinner, softer branches with leaves.

Yun Zi is, by far, the messiest, and although his exhibit is smaller than Bai Yun and Mr. Wu’s exhibit, it takes longer to clean. He sleeps on top of his hollowed-out tree trunk, which we call his Keebler tree. That is the hardest to clean and hose off, and we have to climb a ladder to do so. We gather up all of the leftover bamboo from the night before, the big pieces anyways, and tie it back up and re-weigh it to record how much the pandas ate.

We empty and hose out the pools, clean their drinkers, and rake up the smaller bits of bamboo and their poop (which, strangely enough, smells like rotting pumpkins to me). Mr. Wu is now pooping regularly, but his deposits are usually pretty dry and look like chopped-up hay. He is mainly eating leaves but has started to eat bamboo branches, twigs, and even thin parts of culm in small bites. Xiao Liwu still hasn’t quite figured out how to strip the outer layer of bark off yet.

Finally, we bring out the new, fresh bamboo, and spread their treats and bamboo throughout the exhibit. Sometimes we add some enrichment toys or scents. I have noticed that cinnamon is Bai Yun’s absolute favorite; she rubs it all over herself. But we have also used apple pie- and lavender-scented sprays as well as a few different spices and perfumes. We shift the bears back on exhibit, and the day continues with…. Stay tuned for Part 2!

Nick Orrantia is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.