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baby panda

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Panda Cub: The Den

A boy and his moat!

A boy and his moat!

As of January 17, Bai Yun showed us keepers that she is done using her den. How? By leaving a fecal sample in there. When this happens, we clean the den (remove the bedding and disinfect the floor) and close the den door for good. Xiao Liwu is now old enough where he will be spending most of his time high in the trees with Mom.

Some of our panda fans have been curious to know about our panda cub’s nursing activity. Xiao Liwu and Bai Yun both decide with he nurses these days. He seems to nurse early mornings and early evenings. I am sure he nurses throughout the day, as we are not always watching, but it’s not on a regular schedule, since he nurses when he wants to!

We do weigh him regularly and have the nutritionist look at him to body score him. The body score is a great tool to measure body fat and hydration levels. At his exam on January 15, Xiao Liwu weighed 17 pounds (7.8 kilograms) and measured 33 inches (85 centimeters) long.

Click to enlarge chart

Click to enlarge chart

One of our readers asked if baby pandas shed their coats, like human babies get new hair later on? When panda cubs start getting fur, it has a slightly pink tinge to it. We call it “baby fur.” As they reach around 5 to 6 months, the pink fur does grow out and shed. Have any of you noticed this with Xiao Liwu?

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Happy 10th Anniversary, Gao Gao.

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Panda Cub: Exam 6

Hello, world!

Today our little panda boy had his sixth exam. This was especially exciting for me, as it was MY first panda cub exam. Our chubby cubbie weighed in at 5.8 pounds (2.64 kilograms)—almost a pound more than last week. It is amazing how quickly this little guy is growing!

Our little buddy was a teeny bit fussy at the beginning of the exam, but a few chin scratches later he was sleeping like a baby. Baby panda boy received his first vaccination today as well. He was a super star and didn’t make a sound during the injection.  What a brave little man he is!

Holding the cub for the first time was a truly amazing experience for me- he is so fluffy and strong!  Although he may look helpless and fragile in the den, let me assure you that this baby panda is a little tank. Mom and baby are bonding more and more every day. Mom Bai Yun plays with her little baby, spinning him around and carrying him out to her bedroom on a regular basis now.  Although this play can look rough at times, this is perfectly normal for a panda mom and baby.  Our little guy is strong, and Bai Yun is an experienced mother who has successfully raised five cubs already. Soon enough our little guy will be up and running around. In fact, we have seen him practicing his crawling skills recently!

I can’t wait to see our little star out on exhibit this winter.

Elizabeth Simmons is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

More images can be found in our Panda Gallery.

Click to enlarge chart.

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Bai Yun Gives Birth

Bai Yun cradles her newest cub, born on July 29, 2012!

It’s been a long, crazy, rewarding day at the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Trek. I checked in at 6 this morning, there to relieve the early morning watch. The keeper on duty reported that Bai Yun had had a fairly quiet night resting in her den. However, since about 5 a.m. she had had a few bouts of nest building and genital licking. We’ve been seeing both behaviors from her for the last few days, so initially I thought we were status quo.

As the hour wore on, I noticed that she was not taking long rest periods as in days past. Instead, she would only rest for about 10 minutes before getting up to nest build or lick some more. I wondered if this would be a temporary restlessness or if this would build as the day progressed. At 8 a.m., keepers tried to get Bai Yun to cooperate with an ultrasound procedure. She walked voluntarily into the tunnel where we conduct the exams. However, it became quickly apparent that she was too restless to settle down and lay still, so the ultrasound was scrapped. Shortly after returning to her bedroom and sunroom area, I observed Bai Yun straining to defecate in the sun room. This occurred several times over the next hour. When she moved this straining to the den at about 9 a.m., I began alerting staff on site that Bai Yun may be in the early stages of labor.

As everyone gathered, Bai Yun continued to progress. She intermittently engaged in nest building, licking, and straining. The straining very clearly moved to obvious contractions, and after a few hours she began to grunt along with her contractions. We watched with baited breath, aware that this labor appeared to be taking longer than some of her previous ones. Bai Yun seemed to be lagging with fatigue.

At 2:10 p.m., with a loud squawk, a baby panda made its way into the world! Bai Yun was in a seated position when the cub emerged, and it never even touched the ground before she had it in her embrace. Bai Yun immediately comforted and consoled the cub, and it settled down quickly. Over the next hour, staff watched with relief as Bai Yun seemed to relax and enjoy a few short catnaps with the cub vocalizing intermittently to remind us all that it was still there.

We are so very pleased to have witnessed another wonderful birth. Despite the lengthy labor and the concerns we all had about the impact her age might have on her ability to sustain a pregnancy, Bai Yun has once again shown us that she is, indeed, a hero mother.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

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Prepping for the First Exam

It’s hard to believe that our baby panda will soon be a month old! Already preparations are taking place for the first cub exam by our Zoo veterinarians. How does one prepare for such an event? Well, it all really depends on mother Bai Yun.

Giant pandas do have a postpartum fast that can last up to several weeks. Once Bai is observed leaving the den to start eating, we start planning for a cub exam. Right now, Bai is leaving the den on a regular basis, eating small amounts of bamboo, leafeater biscuits, and produce three times a day. She is slowly getting back to her old routine. When the slider door closes to Bai Yun’s bedroom and sunroom, she hears the keeper cleaning the sunroom. When the keeper is finished cleaning, food is placed in the sunroom, the door opens, and Bai has access to her food. Lately, she has been coming out within a few minutes.

As Bai Yun eats in the sunroom, we gently close the slider door that separates her from her cub. We, of course, monitor her comfort level with this; we have her up to four minutes now with the door closed. The next step is to have a keeper in the other bedroom with the cub, doing some very quiet cleaning while Bai is eating. We have another keeper watching Bai in the adjoining sunroom to make sure she is fine with this. Our goal is for five minutes with this management. Once we have reached our goal, we can set a day for a cub exam.

The first exam is quite a staged event. We have a keeper selected to get the cub from the den, one keeper with Bai Yun making sure she is settled and eating, the vet who will perform the “quick exam,” the Zoo’s
photographer and videographer filming the process, and our nutritionist, who will get measurements on the cub. We try to keep the first exam very brief; as time goes by, we will lengthen the exam time as Bai permits us. Of course, if the cub starts to cry, the exam is over and it is placed back into the den very quickly! Bai is an excellent mother and will react if her baby is in distress.

The big question now is the date of the exam. All I can say for now it that it will be very soon! I have had the privilege of getting several of our panda cubs out of the den for their first exam. I can tell you this: it is very exciting holding a baby cub and seeing it for the first time out of the den! We are placing bets on the sex of our new cub. What is your guess? Stay tuned….

Kathy Hawk is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.