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panda cam

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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.

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Our Panda Family

Mother and son enjoy a playful moment on Panda Cam.

Mother and son enjoy a playful moment on Panda Cam.

What’s that little panda rascal been up to these days? I spoke with Senior Keeper Kathy Hawk this morning to get the latest on the panda family at the San Diego Zoo. Let’s start with Xiao Liwu, our one-year-old cutie. He likes to do things on his own time. Kathy knows he knows what is expected of him when keepers call him to come over to the back fence line for some of that tasty honey water, and to then shift into his bedroom, but he doesn’t always feel like coming. Sometimes he’d just rather stay up in his favorite tree or nap in his hammock. Kathy assured me this is very typical of cubs this age!

“Mr. Wu” is eating bits of bamboo leaves and stems and apple slices but is still more interested in Mama Bai Yun’s milk bar, which again is natural at this age. In a few months, he’ll become more food motivated. Kathy mentioned that he is more aware of and interested in his surroundings rather than just focused on what Mom is doing. Mr. Wu now weighs 53 pounds (24 kilograms).

Bai Yun is “looking really good,” says Kathy. She is eating well and maintaining a nice, consistent weight for a nursing panda at 214 pounds (97.3 kilograms). And we all saw how much she enjoyed her birthday cake two weeks ago!

Her older son, Yun Zi, had his annual vaccination and his very first blood draw, with Keeper Jen Becerra assisting. You may notice the shaved spot on his arm. Kathy was very proud of his cooperation with Jen during this procedure. Four-year-old Yun Zi now weighs 197.7 pounds (89.7 kilograms), long ago surpassing his father in heft. What a big boy!

Gao Gao is also doing well, keeping cool and comfy in his off-exhibit area. Apparently, our father panda has never been a fan of warmer weather but doesn’t always exercise common sense about finding ways to cool off. Therefore, keepers proactively bring him into his air-conditioned bedrooms if it starts to get too warm for him. Kathy shared that Gao Gao LOVES attention from his keepers and solicits back scratches from them by calling to them, rubbing up against the chain link safety barriers, or sucking on his paws in a way that she said is so endearing that she can’t help but give him a scritch or two. To help with his digestion on warmer days, he is given probiotics, hidden in a Gao Gao favorite: applesauce. His preferred position for enjoying this treat? On his back, looking adorable! I sense another back scratch coming…

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Xiao Liwu: A Gentle Soul.

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Xiao Liwu: A Gentle Soul

Xiao Liwu continues to grow, learn, and thrive at the San Diego Zoo.

Xiao Liwu continues to grow, learn, and thrive at the San Diego Zoo.

I spoke with long-time panda keeper Kathy Hawk to get an update on our youngest panda, Xiao Liwu, who is now one year old. She described him as a gentle soul—at least so far! “He’s different from his siblings. He’s very mellow around us.” Keepers are still able to enter the exhibit when he is in there, and he doesn’t treat them like a toy to play with or a tree to try to climb like our previous cubs have done.

Kathy explained that the “light bulb” has gone off in his head, and Xiao Liwu now seems to understand that a delicious honey water treat is his reward if he comes when keepers call him. As such, “Mr. Wu” is more consistently starting to shift from his exhibit enclosure to his bedroom when asked. Here’s how it works: a keeper stands at the fence line and calls his name. If Mr. Wu comes over, whether down from the tree or from playing or sleeping, and touches his nose to a target, the keeper clicks a clicker to let him know he did as asked and rewards him with sips of honey water. Kathy said our little man LOVES that honey water! However, Xiao Liwu is “still a baby,” and, although he now understands what is asked of him, he may not always choose to comply! Sound familiar to you parents out there?

Xiao Liwu is nibbling on bamboo a bit but prefers apple slices and folivore biscuits that have been soaked in water for him. At this stage in his life, he does not compete with his mother, Bai Yun, for the biscuits or the bamboo. Mr. Wu still spends a good deal of time up in the trees, as cubs do at this age, and this does not bother keepers or his mother. Kathy has never heard Bai Yun call for him to come down!

Kathy also described that all six panda cubs she has worked with have gone through a stage where they get extra-sensitive to noise and react strongly to sudden, loud sounds by running or walking quickly, or even frothing at the mouth. Perhaps their sense of hearing becomes more acute at this age, and they react to sounds they ignored as toddlers. You may see this now with Mr. Wu, but Kathy wanted to reassure panda fans that this, too, shall pass!

Snow day for all of our pandas will be on Thursday, August 29. Approximately 30,000 pounds of snow will be blown into the exhibits early that morning, and the pandas will be released into the white stuff around 8 a.m. for Panda Cam viewers to enjoy, including some for Gao Gao. The Zoo opens at 9 a.m., and if you’re lucky enough to be here that day, do come and watch the fun!

This special snow day enrichment for our pandas was made possible by generous donors who contributed to the Zoo’s online Animal Care Wish List. There are other items on this month’s Wish List for our pandas, such as composite wood for custom-made toys, perfume, bark logs, and coconuts, starting at just $9. Other Zoo bears have added their wish list requests as well, including snowballs in $10 increments for our polar bears. Check it out!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global.

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Planning a Panda Snow Day

Remember Xiao Liwu's first snow day back in March?

Remember Xiao Liwu’s first snow day back in March?

On Thursday, August 29, our beloved pandas at the San Diego Zoo will receive approximately 30,000 pounds (13,600 kilograms) of snow as part of a special enrichment surprise. Starting around 6 a.m. on Thursday, Arctic Ice Company will begin the process of blowing snow into the two main viewing exhibits.

The three pandas receiving snow are one-year-old cub Xiao Liwu and his mother, Bai Yun, who will enjoy the snow together, and the cub’s older brother, four-year-old Yun Zi, who will be exploring the snow in his exhibit. (Of course, this plan is subject to change if the little stinker—er, cub—doesn’t cooperate by shifting off exhibit when asked!) This will be Xiao Liwu’s second snow day (see Panda Cub Gets Cold Feet), and we are eager to see how the cub will react to his snowy exhibit this time. For his first snow day, Xiao Liwu was a little hesitant, but once he saw Mom enjoying the snow, he jumped in and playfully wrestled with her until he tired himself out.

These special snow-day enrichments would not be possible without our generous donors. A private donor event will be held before the exhibit opens to the public to give thanks to many of the donors who contributed to the Zoo’s online Animal Care Wish List. The Wish List is like an online gift registry for animals at the Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park and can be found at sandiegozoo.org/wishlist.

The panda exhibit will be open at 9 a.m. as usual for guests to come see the panda snow day. For panda fans who aren’t able to see the bears in person, Panda Cam will be available for online viewing of snow day starting at 8 a.m., or fans can check out the Zoo’s social media channels for updates, photos, and video:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/sandiegozoo
Twitter: www.twitter.com/sandiegozoo
YouTube: www.youtube.com/sdzoo

Ina Saliklis is a public relations representative for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Panda Cub: Exam 15.

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Birthday Plans for Yun Zi

Yun Zi over the years

Yun Zi over the years

Xiao Liwu’s first birthday on July 29 has come and gone (see Panda Party: Wu Hoo!), and now it’s Yun Zi’s turn to celebrate! His fourth birthday is on Monday, August 5. At 210 pounds (95 kilograms), Yun Zi has turned into quite a handsome bear with plenty of personality. He still enjoys climbing and redecorating his exhibit when we least expect it and is always challenging us to come up with better and more creative enrichment for him.

Yun Zi excels at all his training on the different husbandry behaviors we’d like him to know and already has a long list of them mastered. Currently, he is working on presenting his arm through a metal sleeve so we can draw a blood sample from him. He is doing extremely well, and we are working on the “patience” part where he leaves his arm in the sleeve for longer periods of time.

Yun Zi enjoys his cake at his third birthday party last summer.

Yun Zi enjoys his cake at his third birthday party last summer.

We are kicking off his birthday party a little early this year. Our Black & White Overnight campers will be creating different, colorful cardboard gift boxes filled with goodies to present to him on Sunday, August 4. After the gifts have been set out in the exhibit for him, campers will gather in front of his exhibit to watch him enjoy opening them. We hope to have our Panda Cam catch them waving to panda fans everywhere between 8:35 and 8:45 a.m.

On Monday, August 5, the Birthday Boy will be receiving more gifts and a world-famous ice cake from our wonderful Forage Department “pastry chefs” to enjoy when he is let out into his exhibit at 9 a.m. I can’t wait to see what it will look like!

When Yun Zi breaks off that number “4” on the top of his cake, he will most likely be making his birthday wish. And what does this bear want for his birthday? A higher swing, a hammock, more back scratches, more bamboo…. I am sure he has a long list, and we are working on all of these presents for him. If you’d like to help, be sure to visit this month’s Animal Care Wish List.

Yun Zi when he was a wee cub

Yun Zi when he was a wee cub

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Birthday Plans for Xiao Liwu.

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Prodigious Panda Proceedings

Being a panda mother is hard work! Bai Yun takes a well-deserved nap.

Being a panda mother is hard work! Bai Yun takes a well-deserved nap.

Monday was an exciting day for North American zoos holding giant pandas! We are thrilled for our colleagues at Zoo Atlanta, who welcomed not one but two panda cubs as their hero mother Lun Lun gave birth. As a twin birth had not been witnessed in the US in a while, this occasion is especially momentous. We have our fingers crossed that things continue to go well for the Atlanta bears and staff in the next few critical days.

Twinning in giant pandas is an issue of interest to us, because although females give birth to twins nearly as often as they have singletons, the giant panda mother appears unable to successfully care for two cubs simultaneously (see Pandas: Are Two Better Than One?). While there are a few anecdotal accounts of finding panda twins of significant age in the wild, in most cases these reports are not well substantiated. A female in a Japanese zoo several years ago successfully reared twins, but she was the fortunate beneficiary of a lot of support from the zoo staff. Keepers hand-fed her at times or took her cubs to an incubator from time to time to allow her to rest. While her case offers a glimpse into the possibilities for twin rearing in panda mothers, it is not comparable to the solitary effort required by a free-ranging wild panda mother.

Panda mothers in Chinese breeding centers have allowed us to watch a variety of their responses to a twin birth. Many mothers initially do try to care for both cubs, cradling and grooming their twins for a few hours or days before ultimately giving up and rearing only one. Some females don’t put any effort into caring for both cubs and instead focus on one from the very start. It would be interesting to follow those mothers through multiple years to see if their strategy changes with each twin birth or if you can predict that a female who has attempted to rear twins once will do so again in the future. As of this writing, I do not know the answer to that question. What we can say is that at some point, a mother of twins has to make a choice about which cub she will care for and which will be abandoned to its fate.

The San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Conservation Unit has invested considerable time in trying to understand what factors play a role in determining which twin cub a panda mother selects for nurturing. Is it the birth order that matters most? Or do mothers choose larger, more robust cubs? Perhaps they prefer a specific gender of cub? Is the mother’s decision influenced by whether or not she is a first-time mom? Our work is using data compiled from Chinese breeding centers and twin births around the globe throughout the known history of giant pandas in captivity. Soon we will be able to answer several of these questions.

Our Chinese counterparts have demonstrated repeatedly that with twin swapping and good nutrition, a rejected panda twin is not necessarily fated to die but instead can embark on a healthy, productive life. We know that Lun Lun’s offspring will be offered great care, whether from mother bear’s embrace or from their well-trained staff while in an incubator. With a little luck, we may all get to watch a charming pair of panda cubs grow up right here in North America—and that would indeed be a milestone for our panda population.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Xiao Liwu: Meeting those Milestones. Watch our pandas daily on Panda Cam.

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Comparing Panda Brothers

Bai Yun seems to be keeping an eye on her cub in this Panda Cam screen shot.

Bai Yun seems to be keeping an eye on her cub in this Panda Cam screen shot.

Xiao Liwu is a very different cub from his older brother, Yun Zi, but in a good way. He is very smart and is the youngest cub to respond so well to us keepers. Yun Zi did not start shift training (learning to move on and off exhibit when requested) until he was a little older than Mr. Wu is now (9 months old).

The important thing to have with the training and shifting is a reward (usually food) motivation. Yun Zi enjoyed honey water, and he was really good at following Bai Yun when she went into the bedroom, and after he arrived in the bedroom, he would come to us for his reward for coming inside.

Mr. Wu has plenty of motivation with play to follow us to the shift door, but he has learned that the play ends at the door. And sometimes he seems to just want to be carried to the shift door, so we keepers can do all the work! When he starts eating diet items regularly, he will start being motivated to come inside when asked. Xiao Liwu now weighs 31.7 pounds (14.4 kilograms).

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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A Mister for Every Panda

Xiao Liwu gets comfy in the tree.

How can he rest like that?

As we move into warmer days, I know a few people watching Panda Cam have commented about seeing some “smoke” in the exhibit. Do not be alarmed! What you see are water misters we have for each panda exhibit. In the wild, these bears do deal with extreme cold in the winter and in the summer experience extreme humidity, but here in San Diego they have been a little spoiled with the nice weather that they so often enjoy.

As we head into summer, keepers have some tools to ensure that our animals are comfortable and can relax to get a break from the heat. The number one enrichment item for the summer is ice. On those hot days, keepers like to go raid the food stands for their ice to give “their” animals something cool to flop down on or sit in. We also make popsicles for them; pandas get applesauce, honey, and chunks of fruit in water that is frozen overnight. For a lot of the Zoo’s carnivores, we make “bloodsicles,” using the juice from the meat they are given, as a cool treat.

Another tool at our disposal is the mister, and it can do multiple things for the exhibit and animal. A mister can keep the dust down in the enclosure and make it easier for the keepers to clean. It also creates a cool place for the animal to sleep in so they can stay out on exhibit for our guests to see. If the area gets too warm, the pandas do have air-conditioned bedrooms as well. I always like to remind everyone that our animals’ well being does come first.

Everyone stay cool out there!

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.

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Panda Cub Learning Routine

Xiao Liwu is doing great!

Xiao Liwu is doing great!

It’s been almost three weeks since panda cub Xiao Liwu’s public debut, and he is doing a great job learning how to be a zoo panda. Xiao Liwu has become an early riser, waking up early with his mom, Bai Yun, ready to make his way out to the north exhibit. We have no problem shifting him out in the morning: he eagerly follows Bai Yun through the shift tunnel out to the exhibit, often passing his mother in the tunnel and arriving to the exhibit before his mom has time to catch up!

Once out, Xiao Liwu enjoys climbing on anything he can find: logs, toys, Mom. He continues to explore his environment, perfecting his climbing skills and nibbling on bamboo sticks. Such activity makes our boy sleepy, so Xiao Liwu tends to find a nice place to nap mid-morning. Oftentimes he ends up choosing the moat, much to the dismay of his fans, since he isn’t visible down there (unless you’re watching on Panda Cam). But lately, little Wu has been soaking up the sun on the climbing structure or napping on top of the log.

Sitting in the sun makes a panda quite hot, and you may notice Xiao Liwu panting. He will learn to seek out shade when he gets hot; this is a process all of our babies have gone through. Xiao Liwu does love water, and we have seen him playing in his water tub and the drinker. Soon we will fill the pool with a small amount of water for him to splash around in.

After a full day out on exhibit, our biggest challenge has been getting little Xiao Liwu back into his bedroom in the afternoon. Bai Yun is always ready to shift in for dinner; Mr. Wu is usually sacked out in the moat or in the climbing structure in the afternoon. Because of her trust in her keepers, we are fortunate to be able to shift Bai Yun into her bedroom for dinner without her son, giving keepers the opportunity to wake Xiao Liwu up and encourage him to come in.

Once awake and in the shift tunnel, Mr. Wu tends to roll around and play in the tunnel on his way to his mother. Bai Yun waits patiently in back for her son to make his way in. She seems to know he needs to learn to shift in as well as he shifts out in the morning.

All in all, our panda boy is doing an excellent job learning to be a zoo panda, and we are very proud of him and his amazing mother.

Elizabeth Simmons is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Big Day for Mr. Wu.

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Panda Cam Brings Healing

Our animal cams aren’t just for fleeting entertainment. As a wildlife conservation organization, our mission is to connect people to wildlife and conservation, and our live cams are incredibly powerful tools that allow us to connect people to wildlife worldwide in real time. With the birth of our sixth panda, Xiao Liwu, Panda Cam has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. We get comments from people all over the world about Panda Cam, but one in particular touched us, and we wanted to share it with you. Enjoy.

“My sister and I began watching these bears when our little gift was born. Then I took them to the hospital where I work and began sharing. For all of my patients and our nursing staff from Sutter Cancer Center in Northern CA, I say THANK YOU to all at SDZ. Your Panda cams and blogs have made a difference in how our very ill patients cope and get through their medical processes.

I am an Integrated Therapist & Medical Aromatherapist. The first thing I do for a new patient who will be staying for awhile is show them how to log on to the Panda Cam. We have all watched our “little gift” be born and grow & now make his debut. He is a wonderful deterrent to pain, depression, loneliness and hopelessness. We all thank you so much for providing this wonderful gift for us and our patients. It speaks to the Quality of their Life as they go through treatments.

This is something that should be put in all hospital long-term care and critical-care units. In the love of this little fuzz ball, my patients need less medication for coping and sleeping. I have been known to turn off their computer as they fall asleep with Xiao Liwu sleeping quietly on the screen in their lap. [All hospitals] should consider using this in their critical care and long-term care facilities.

We all love you Bai Yun and our little healing bear, “little Wu.” Happy anniversary to Gao Gao! Forever fans, Robin Gayle & Dixie Lee.”

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global.