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Bi Feng Xia

74

Update: Our Pandas in China

You continue to make us proud, Su Lin!

You continue to make us proud, Su Lin! Photo credit: Meghan Martin

With the arrival of spring comes some exciting news from China: panda Su Lin has bred! Seven-year-old Su Lin, who was born at the San Diego Zoo in August 2005, bred with male Yuan Yuan several times at Bi Feng Xia, and all appeared to go perfectly. We are waiting to hear whether she breeds with any more males over the next few days, and we have high hopes that this will be a successful pregnancy for Su Lin. Her first cub was born in July 2011 (see Su Lin Gives Birth!). We were also happy to receive some recent photos of Su Lin, and she looks happy and healthy and is as beautiful as ever!

Hua Mei's newest cub has even us hardened researchers saying "Awww!" Photo credit: Meghan Martin

Hua Mei’s newest cub has even us hardened researchers saying “Awww!” Photo credit: Meghan Martin

We’ve also received a recent photo of 13-year-old Hua Mei’s latest cub. As you may recall, Hua Mei was born here in August 1999 and has given birth to nine cubs over the years since she moved to China in 2004. It is such a pleasure to see Bai Yun’s newest grandcub, a girl, born in August 2012! We’ve also learned that Hua Mei and Su Lin have been neighbors at Bi Feng Xia.

Mei Sheng has also had opportunities to mate this year, but thus far he’s shown that he still has some learning to do. Even though Mei Sheng, born here in August 2003 and now nine years old, is a fully adult panda, male pandas tend to mature later than females, so there is still plenty of time left for him to become a more adept breeder.

The breeding season has been in full swing for pandas at Bi Feng Xia for about a month now, and panda females may continue to come into estrus through June. While each female only has a single estrus, and just a few days of interest in breeding, males will have opportunities to breed throughout the entire spring. We will keep you posted, and all of our fingers are crossed in hopes for a successful year there.

Megan Owen is a conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

77

Su Lin: Back to Bi Feng Xia

Su Lin at 16 weeks old at the San Diego Zoo. What a cutie!

For some critically endangered species, reintroduction is the ultimate goal of captive-breeding programs. While some species have greatly benefited from reintroduction programs, there are inherent challenges associated with developing a protocol that has a good chance of success. As we all know, the giant panda is critically endangered, and our Chinese colleagues are developing a reintroduction program for the species. Months ago, Su Lin was identified as a potential participant in this program. While not slated to be reintroduced to the wild, Su Lin was chosen to live in a large, naturalistic enclosure with the hope that she would give birth, raise her cub to about 18 months of age with minimal human intervention, and then her cub might have eventually been released. For all of us who’ve followed the panda conservation program over the years, this was a great honor and reflected our pride in Bai Yun and Gao Gao’s San Diego Zoo-born offspring.

We have worked closely with our colleagues in Wolong for over 15 years. In that time we have learned so much, and our collaborative, science-based conservation program has become a model for other species. I think I speak for everyone on the Panda Team when I say that we have tremendous respect for our colleagues in Wolong and tremendous confidence in the care and effort they have put into this amazing program.

Recently we learned that Su Lin would be heading back to the breeding base at Bi Feng Xia with her cub. While we were disappointed that this cub, Bai Yun and Gao Gao’s descendent, would not be a candidate for reintroduction, we were confident that the right decision was made. While Su Lin’s new status as a mother made her a good candidate for this program, her inexperience was evident, and the staff at Wolong decided that it was best for both Mom and cub to be returned to Bi Feng Xia base.

Ultimately, we know that the goal that we all share is that of giant panda conservation. And luckily, for those of us who feel a connection to the individual pandas that we’ve gotten to know, this lofty goal includes taking the best care possible of each and every panda in our collective care.

Megan Owen is a conservation program specialist with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Polar Bears: Getting Ready.

Update: October 31, 2011. The co-head of our giant panda conservation program, Ron Swaisgood, is currently in China and saw Su Lin and her cub. He reports that Su Lin and baby are healthy and doing well and that her move seems to be for logistics. She may return to the release pen for her next cub.

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Su Lin, Zhen Zhen Update

Su Lin. Photo credit: Wolong Panda Club

As hard as it was for us to say good-bye to our San Diego Zoo-born pandas, this task was made infinitely easier knowing that they would be well taken care of upon their arrival in China. The relationships we’ve built over the years with our colleagues at Wolong and Bi Feng Xia have been instrumental in establishing mutual trust and an understanding that we are all working toward the same goal: the best possible care of captive pandas and ensuring the persistence of wild populations.

Zhen Zhen. Photo credit: Wolong Panda Club

I know many of you have been wondering how Su Lin and Zhen Zhen have been doing since their arrival at Bi Feng Xia. Well, I am happy to report that they are both doing great! Last week, I received an update from one of our friends at Bi Feng Xia; both Su Lin and Zhen Zhen are living in the Leopard Mountain area there. Our colleagues’ nickname for this area is “Paradise for Overseas Returned Pandas,” and given its very large area, abundant trees, and variety of substrates, it sounds like a very nice space indeed.

Su Lin. Photo credit: Wolong Panda Club

Both of the girls are spending a lot of time climbing trees, and they are being provisioned with about 50 pounds (23 kilograms) of bamboo a day. Both of the girls have a den they can access. It seem that Su Lin is a bit mellower than Zhen Zhen in her new habitat, while Zhen Zhen has been playing quite a bit. This is generally a quiet time for adult pandas, and so we are all anxious to hear how Su Lin is behaving as spring, and the breeding season, approaches.

We will keep you posted on Su Lin and Zhen Zhen’s lives in Bi Feng Xia, and we’ll be sure to include updates on Hua Mei and Mei Sheng as well. Our colleagues, and good friends, are happy to keep us informed.

Megan Owen is a conservation program specialist at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Wind, Snow, and Polar Bears.

Zhen Zhen. Photo credit: Wolong Panda Club

Su Lin. Photo credit: Wolong Panda Club

Zhen Zhen. Photo credit: Wolong Panda Club

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22

Wolong Pandas: Life Returns to Normal

Mountains of Bi Feng Xia

Mountains of Bi Feng Xia

One panda sits peacefully munching her bamboo, gracefully stripping leaves from the stem, rolling it into a wad, and holding it in her paw to eat. Another rolls around, head over heels, playing with his new enrichment item. A new panda mother comforts her squawking cub, secure in her new den. Such is the life of a panda.

Scenes like this have played out for years in Wolong until, a year ago, everything suddenly came crashing down, quite literally. The earthquake that struck Sichuan last year, causing so much devastation and loss of life, also struck at the heart of China’s giant panda breeding program at Wolong. Most of the breeding center there now sits empty, its panda and human inhabitants now relocated to Bi Feng Xia, some several hours away. Today, the same scenes witnessed a year ago in Wolong now play out in Bi Feng Xia.

Entrance to Bi Feng Xia panda facility

Entrance to Bi Feng Xia panda facility

Thankfully, the whole world rallied to help the Chinese people—and their pandas. And together, with your help, we at the San Diego Zoo have helped. In the past year, we raised $100,000 to help out those devastated by the earthquake, both the pandas and the people that care for them. We worked with the other zoos in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and its Giant Panda Conservation Foundation, which raised even more relief funds for Wolong. Without this kind of support, the pandas’ life would not have been able to return to normal so quickly and efficiently. The pandas all still do not enjoy so nice an enclosure as they once had at Wolong, but they are well on the path to normalcy. They have temporary enclosures. Some new permanent enclosures have been built or are being built. They have a good supply of food and medicine and the basic care they need. A new facility just outside the Wolong Nature Reserve will soon be built.

The Chinese people and their pandas are resilient. But this kind of assistant was desperately needed. Our friends in Wolong, now Bi Feng Xia, are truly grateful. And we are grateful for all of the contributions you made. So, thanks!

Ron Swaisgood is director of Applied Animal Ecology at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.

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Pandas in China: One Year Later

Panda "kindergarten" at Bi Feng Xia

Panda kindergarten at Bi Feng Xia

When I returned to China for the 2009 breeding season, I was overcome with joy as I saw my Chinese friends in person. After the earthquake on May 12, 2008, I found some way to communicate with all of them, but there is nothing like being face to face. Forgetting that I was in China, I went up to each of them and gave them a huge hug. The looks on their faces were priceless! They don’t traditionally hug as a greeting, so to have a tall blonde woman hug you in public was shocking to most of them. Afterward they all just chuckled a little bit and changed the subject.

Life in Bi Feng Xia was business as usual. Female giant pandas were going into estrus everywhere you looked. It was as if the breeding center had broken out into song. After Hua Mei mated there was a huge dinner celebration because she had the first natural breeding session of the year!

Bi Feng Xia staff

Bi Feng Xia staff

New exhibits were opening almost every day as the Wolong relocated giant pandas returned home. I had drawn a map of the facility on my first day and by the time I left it was barely readable due to all the additions. The panda kindergarten was full of last year’s cubs, and they were constantly having a blast in their outdoor jungle gym enclosure.

The Panda Club has put up plaques throughout the panda base thanking everyone for their support. It is very clear that the world reached out to them in their time of need and we have made a difference in their ability to recover from the earthquake.

Jennifer Keating is a research scientist for the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Mei Sheng’s New Exhibit.

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Mei Sheng’s New Exhibit

Can you spot Mei Sheng?

Can you spot Mei Sheng?

Jennifer Keating, a research scientist for San Diego Zoo Conservation Research, is in China conducting research on giant pandas. She is kind enough to include updates on the two pandas born at the Zoo now living in China, Hua Mei and Mei Sheng. Read her previous blog, Hua Mei: Quite the Charmer.

Ya’an has a reputation for being the rainiest city in China. Even though I have only been here a short time, I am willing to say that this reputation is very true! The Bifengxia panda base is just up the mountainside from Ya’an and tends to get more rain than Ya’an. To everyone’s surprise, the sun came out a few days ago, and it happened to coincide with Mei Sheng getting moved to his new exhibit.

There have been massive amounts of construction all over the panda base, and for those of you that have visited Bifengxia, they have built six beautiful, large enclosures up on Leopard Mountain. Mei Sheng was extremely happy to explore his new exhibit. There are tons of tall trees for him to climb and sleep in. On the mornings I have visited Mei Sheng, I have found his keeper outside the exhibit trying to call him down from the tree he has spent the night in.

One of the projects I have been working on here in China involves Mei Sheng. The goal of the project has been to collect audio recordings of the male giant panda bleat, along with fecal samples from that day. We will then look at the levels of testosterone in the fecal samples and see if there is a correlation with the bleat recorded on that day. Mei Sheng is the youngest male in the study, helping to provide a wide range of ages.

The data collection for this project has been very successful, and as of this morning I have everything I need to bring back to the U.S. for analysis.

0

Hua Mei: Quite the Charmer

Hua Mei in China

Hua Mei in China

I have returned to China for this year’s breeding season, and to my surprise, Hua Mei was the center of attention in Bifengxia. Hua Mei did not breed last year due to the earthquake, so she was ready to be at the front of the pack this year. The Bifengxia Giant Panda Base (part of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda) is in the final stages of building its new breeding center. Workers are just finishing up the front entrance, but the 14 panda exhibits are finished and in use. They have made many improvements to the design of the breeding center, including some new safety measures for the keepers.

When I first found Hua Mei, she was bleating in an exhibit between Ling Ling and Wu Gang. These males were extremely excited and vocal about having her as a neighbor. Hua Mei’s keeper was trying to feed her some bamboo bread, but Hua Mei thought it would be better used as perfume. Hua Mei took the chunk of bread between her chin and shoulder and rubbed it into her fur. Once it fell to the ground, she began to lie on top of the leftovers and managed to cover her entire back in bamboo bread crumbles. I couldn’t hold back my laughter because she looked like she was having so much fun!

Rubbing herself in bamboo bread must be one the secrets to her success for breeding. Hua Mei, over the course of two days, mated four times. Each session was done to textbook, and she set a great example for the other giant pandas. I only hope they took notes. Of course, we won’t know for several months if a pregnancy was achieved.

I will be in China for the next several weeks collecting vocalizations from the giant pandas and working with Ben Charlton (Zoo Atlanta) on some audio playback studies. In my next blog, I will report on my progress and about Mei Sheng.

Jennifer Keating is a research scientist for San Diego Zoo Conservation Research.

Read Jennifer’s previous blog, Congratulations, Guo Guo!