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panda cub care

85

Perfectly Panda

Bai Yun is taking good care of her cub and herself.

Bai Yun and her cub are doing well, and their relationship has been evolving in predictable panda ways. As the cub grows, he can get bigger bellyfuls of milk with each feeding, which is followed by longer periods of sound rest. This means Bai Yun has more and more free time. What has she been doing with that free time?

Bai Yun continues to increase her time spent feeding outside of the den. She is taking in large quantities of leaf eater biscuits and produce. She is feeding on increasingly more bamboo as well, although she is not quite back to pre-pregnancy consumption levels. Bamboo feeding is a process, and it takes time, so as her intake continues to increase, we can expect her to be out of the den for longer periods. As the cub grows, the demands of lactation will also increase, so she will need every calorie she can get her paws on to ensure an abundant milk supply. Luckily, our keepers stand ready to assist.

Sometimes Bai Yun comes out of the den to rest on her own. She can most commonly be found only a few feet away from the den door, in her bedroom. This allows her a little extra space, some cub-free time, and some fresh air. The air in the bedroom is also a little cooler than the den, as our AC unit feeds directly to that room. Perhaps this has been a factor for her during some of our recent heat waves.

She has been utilizing the garden room, too. Those long-time viewers of Panda Cam will recall her favorite platform in that area. She’s taken several recent naps there. Sometimes Bai Yun takes the cub out with her. She’ll head out to the bedroom to feed or rest and plunk her youngster down beside her. Often the cub is asleep during these forays.

Occasionally, he is awake and squirming on the floor next to his mother. Once, Bai Yun even placed the cub on the scale in the bedroom, and keepers were able to use that opportunity to record a weight for him (thank you, Bai Yun!). So far, she has only introduced the cub to the bedroom; the garden room remains a destination for some future date of Bai Yun’s choosing.

Sometimes, Bai Yun can be observed wrestling with her offspring. She’ll turn the youngster around in her paws, nibbling at him playfully. At this stage, the cub is not able to return the play with much vigor, but watch closely—that will change soon. We’ve already seen the cub mouthing his mother’s paws, gnawing on digits. One element missing from your play-bout experience is the audio that staff can hear. Throughout most of Bai Yun’s play sessions, the cub is silent. Obviously, Bai Yun’s play activity is not bothersome to him. It may even be good for him in some way. Certainly it seems important for Bai Yun in some way we don’t yet understand.

None of what we have seen with Bai Yun since the birth of this cub is unusual or unexpected. She’s been the excellent mother we anticipated she would be. The cub continues to grow and develop in a way that pleases us. Mother and cub appear perfectly panda, both physically and behaviorally.

And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Pandas: Me Time.

195

Pandas: You Asked, We Answer

The panda cub on August 15.

As Bai Yun and her cub continue to do well, staff at the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station have slowly begun to emerge from the constant efforts of watching over the den activities to return to tasks put aside during the crucial early postpartum period. I’ve been reading through some of your comments and questions and thought I could offer some feedback.

Regarding the repeated questions regarding Bai Yun’s age, her health, and her behavior with this cub: Bai Yun is doing just fine! She has been resting a lot, which is entirely normal at this stage postpartum. If this is your first panda cub, I encourage you to read through our blog archives and see that sluggishness on the part of momma bear is de rigueur at this stage. Pandas are bears, after all, and many bears experience months of fasting and rest coupled with the birth and early postpartum rearing of their young (see Pandas, Bears, and Pregnancy).

There have been some really good scientific papers written on the magnificent ability of female bears to lactate and care for their young without eating for long periods, noting that very little muscle wastage is evident despite these energetically costly events. Please don’t worry about Bai Yun. She is built for this, and she is taking good care of herself as well as of her cub. We are very pleased with their progress so far.

As an aside: you can see the activities in the den well, but you can’t see what Bai Yun is doing when she leaves the den. She has been getting regular drinks since day 1 postpartum. She has even been observed feeding on occasion. Although she isn’t consuming much yet, she has spent a little time feeding on bamboo and even snacked on biscuits. Her appetite will come back much faster than those cold-weather hibernators, but it is a gradual process. She is making expected changes to her intake every few days.

A few of you noted that the camera has been showing fewer close ups lately. We’ve started to add our other responsibilities into our day, and so when we do leave the monitoring room, we zoom out so the whole den is visible. I’ve noted that some of you are quick to record snippets of video when there is a nice, tight zoom on the cub. Keep sharing your videos with each other so that everyone can benefit from those close ups!

As to the heat in the area: yes, it’s been blazingly hot and humid in San Diego in the last week. But, as our moderator indicated, there is air conditioning in the bedroom area that opens to the den. This air is set to a constant temperature and can filter into the den. Even so, it can get hot in those mountains of China in the summertime; I recall a very sweaty walk up to George Schaller’s former research base in Wolong one summer afternoon. It was baking. The upshot is that these bears can handle a little heat, and Bai Yun has been very comfortable.

We still haven’t had the opportunity to take the new cub out of the den for its first exam. Bai Yun has been leaving the den, though not yet for the long periods we need to see before cub exams begin. That could change at any moment, based upon her needs, so stay tuned! Until that first cub exam, we won’t have a way to determine the gender of this youngster.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Panda Cub: Furry and Fine.

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A Bit about Breeding

Yun Zi, a happy result of natural breeding.

Recently, the Zoo Atlanta female panda experienced estrus, and some of you asked questions about the merits of artificial insemination versus natural mating. I thought I would take the opportunity to answer some of your questions here.

Bai Yun did not experience an estrus this year because she is still caring for Yun Zi, now 10 months old. The typical inter-birth interval for wild pandas is known to be two to three years. In the time between birth, a female is lactating to support the growth of her cub, and lactation suppresses estrus. This makes good sense, in that it would not serve a cub that cannot yet survive exclusively on bamboo if its mother were to become pregnant again and go through the denning-up process before a birth. This would leave a vulnerable, dependent cub out in the cold and reduce its chances of survival. Thus, in pandas as in many mammals, lactation by the mother precludes an estrus for a time.

Once estrus occurs, bears in captive breeding centers have two potential options for inducing pregnancy: natural mating or artificial insemination (AI). Natural mating is the preferred method, because it is more reliable in producing pregnancy. The males seem to know best when to time their copulations with the females, and perhaps fresh sperm from a male in these circumstances is more likely to get the job done. AI, which has produced Hua Mei and three cubs between National Zoo and Zoo Atlanta, obviously does work. However, despite these successes, there are more stories of failure of AI to result in pregnancy. For example, the procedure was done on Bai Yun in 1998, 2001, and 2002, to no avail.

In China, they often naturally mate a female with a male and then also perform AI with the sperm of a different male. When researchers did paternity tests on bears born before 2002, they found that in nearly every case, a cub’s father was determined to be the male that had naturally mated. Thus, despite the prevalence of AI as a technique in captive propagation of rare species, for some animals there is just no substitute for good ol’ fashioned male-female canoodling!

An interesting aside: bears that have more than one cub in their litter might just have more than one father for the litter. It is well known that female pandas, as with other bears, can mate multiple times during an estrus. Further, a female might find herself surrounded by many males at the peak of her estrus. This gives her the opportunity to mate with more than one male during her period of receptivity. Although I know of no case in pandas where multiple paternity has been confirmed for a particular litter, it has been confirmed in American black bears.

Zoo Atlanta has had great success with their AI process in recent years, and we are hoping their trend holds in 2010 as well. It would great to add another U.S.-born panda to the population!

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

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Questions: Exhibit, Den, Food

panda_yz_1-12-10bThe San Diego Zoo’s Panda Team has provided some answers to questions posed by our blog post readers…

What does he weigh now?

Yun Zi weighs about 24 pounds (11 kilograms) now, and is growing every day. We do our best to weigh all of the pandas as often as possible.

Are those climbing structures in the garden room new? He is having such a good time in there, instead of in the classroom; why isn’t he out in the classroom?

The climbing structure in the garden room has actually been there for a while. Viewers don’t always see it as our Panda Cam is not always manned while he’s in there. We don’t have someone staying overnight to work the cameras, and Yun Zi often goes there to climb in the late evening and early morning before we get in.

Bai Yun and Yun Zi are only in the classroom exhibit when our staff is here. We like to have an accurate account of where the cub is at all times. In the evening, he and Bai Yun are brought into their back bedroom area, per a decision made by our Panda Team. This is something that all of the cubs have gone through, and we have found that it is the best choice for them.

I see that Yun Zi is not in the den, even though the camera is focused there, so he must have been there earlier. How much time is he spending in the den lately?

As this is being written, it’s about 7 p.m., and Mr. Yun Zi is not in the den. Every cub is different as far as the time they want to spend in the den, and Bai Yun could have pulled him out of there sooner. Recently, from what I’ve seen, he spends at least the early hours of the morning there and sometimes he decides to have a lazy day and lounge around. Last week during the rain, we did have a day where he didn’t want to go outside, and we didn’t try to get him to go out. It was very windy and raining hard, so we understood if he wasn’t thrilled to go outside. He spent about five hours in the den sleeping and playing by himself. There are always going to be fluctuations in his activity and particular behaviors.

Is he eating any solid foods yet?

Baby pandas really don’t start to eat solids until they are closer to a year old. However, he is very fond of apples, like his mother. One morning I gave him a piece of apple to play with and to see if he was interested in the scent and if it could lure him out of the climbing structure; he grabbed the apple and began sucking on it. He does grab bamboo from Mom and chews on the pieces of culm and leaves, of course. There are a lot of things for us to look forward to with little Yun Zi, and we are all excited to see when he reaches each new step in his development.

Why not wake up little “Yunior” a bit later in the morning, so he won’t be ready for a nap at 9 a.m. when the Zoo opens?

Often when the keepers start their day, the pandas are already awake. We really cannot control when they sleep or their activity level. It would probably make our jobs that much easier, but on the occasional morning when our cub is asleep, we try to let him wake up on his own, or have his mother gently wake him up. As he gets used to being on exhibit, his daily schedule will change, and we will see changes in his activity level. But remember: he is still a growing boy and may have days where he tends to sleep more.

Note: New images have been added to the Panda Photo Gallery. Enjoy!

261

Pandas: The Sounds of Silence

panda_exam10_1Some of you have been asking about the panda cub’s vocalizations. You have wondered if he is loud, protesting mother’s grooming or nibbling activities. Some of you have expressed concern about the fact that Bai Yun is so frequently – and so long – away from the den these days. In fact, Bai Yun’s den departures and the cub’s vocal pattern are interrelated. Let me explain…

First, a primer on cub vocalizations: When panda cubs are born, their vocal repertoire consists of three basic types of sounds: croaks, squawks, and cries. The croak is the lowest in intensity and is generally thought to be a sound of comfort made by the cub, a signal to its mother that all is well. Sometimes a croak can take on a pip, or a sharper sound that is brief, but generally a croak sounds like a little frog or a creaky door. A squawk is a sharp sound that signals a measure of discomfort in the cub. We distinguish between soft and loud squawks, as they can vary in intensity. The louder the squawk, the more urgent the cub’s message to its mother. When a loud squawk becomes very intense and is repeated for several seconds, the vocalization becomes a cry, the most anxious of cub sounds. It’s the sound designed to focus all of the mother’s attention on the infant, a signal of distress. Those of you with children know how riveting your infant’s cries can be; such is the cry of the panda cub.

At birth, the panda is tiny, a few ounces at most, tiny compared to its large, 200-pound mother. The mother panda, for her part, is usually tired and sluggish in the early postpartum days and is further fatigued by caring for her newborn. Unlike a human mother, the panda cannot settle her cub into a crib or bassinet while it sleeps. She must continue to hold the infant close to her, keeping the naked neonate warm. Should she tire enough, she could easily crush that little cub with her large body. But one loud squawk brings her to attention, as if saying, “Ouch, Momma, too tight.” Other urgent vocalizations may signal hunger or a need for more warmth. In this way the cub’s regular vocalizations work with the mother to ensure the denning phase, a time of close contact of the two bears, is a successful one.

But those loud squawks and cries are incredibly loud, indeed. Ensconced in the den, these intense cub vocalizations can be heard throughout the keepers’ areas, many yards away. Imagine bears in a wild den and what a signal this could be to predators that might enjoy a panda cub snack. In the early denning phase, mother panda fasts and remains with her cub most of the time and would be able to defend and deter any predatory attack. But she has to eat sometime…

Once she begins her forays from the den to eat, she is initially very attentive to any sound of the cub she has left behind. We have seen Bai Yun, who is as safe as can be in her favorite bedroom areas, run quickly back to calm a squawking or crying cub that objects to her absence. Part of this may be to soothe and calm the infant, an act of reassurance from Mom to cub. Part of this may also be to avoid drawing attention to the den with the loud cub noise. Once mother has left the den, the cub is unguarded, and a predator could have an easy meal.

As time goes on, the cub adjusts to its mother’s departures and simply rests while she is away feeding. As pandas rely on bamboo for sustenance, and bamboo is known to be a low-quality food source with respect to caloric intake, meeting their nutritional demands requires the intake of large quantities of the plant. This takes time. As mother panda’s appetite returns to normal, she must spend longer and longer periods feeding. She could be away for some time in meeting her needs. In fact, research on wild pandas has documented absences of more than 24 hours during the denning phase! The mother must range as far as necessary to fill her belly: she and her cub are depending on that nutrition.

Fortunately, as the cub gains weight and hair, it is comfortable resting quietly in the den while mother is away. The regular squawks and croaks fall away. Toward the end of the denning phase, our cubs might go most of the day without making a sound, even if Bai Yun enters the den and interacts with her offspring. It’s not uncommon for Bai Yun to pick up her cub, toss it around in her paws, biting gently, all while the cub remains silent. It will flop around in her paws like a limp noodle. It is as if the cub is in a milk-induced stupor, and cannot be roused until its belly needs filling again. Surely this is a good state to leave a panda cub in if you know you will be gone from the den a long time! Predators aren’t going to hear a cub that is making no noise.

So you see, at this stage of the game our little boy isn’t terribly vocal. Even when provoked – as he has been at times when given his shots – he can have a pretty subdued response. Usually, we go through much of the day without hearing much of anything out of the den, especially when Bai Yun is out resting or feeding in other areas.

No need to be concerned about Bai Yun’s long absences. She is still attentive, and if her little cub was uncomfortable, or needed feeding, he would vocalize and she will respond. But both the cub and the mother are okay with these long excursions from the den. It is a natural evolution of their relationship, one that is seen with wild and captive pandas alike. When you wonder about what Bai Yun is doing when you can’t see her on the Panda Cam, you can rest assured that she is doing exactly what she needs to be doing – what she is biologically driven to do – and that following her instincts will ensure the health and well-being of both mother and cub.

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

0

Den Cleaning

panda_exam8_1Hello again, panda fans! I’m happy to report that Bai Yun’s newest cub is doing well. As always, Bai Yun is an excellent mother.

You may have noticed that the den floor looks a little different as of late. It’s a little less smooth, a little lower against the den walls, and Bai has been bringing in and rearranging fresh bamboo pieces. Now that the cub is a little big bigger and is starting to scoot around, the Panda Team has decided that it’s safe to clean out some of the older, dusty bamboo.

If you’ll remember, Bai started building her den well before she had a cub to put in it, so some of that bamboo has been in there for a couple of months. To keep Bai and cub healthy, some of the bamboo on the den floor has been removed, and Bai has been given the option to bring newer bamboo pieces in. However, as the cub grows, he’ll be spending less time in the den, so den management will continuously change.

This being my first panda cub, I’ve really enjoyed watching him develop. He’s growing so quickly! He still has a pink nose, but yes, it will turn black as he grows up. You may have also noticed that our new cub has a black spot on the tip of his tail. We don’t think that’s something he’ll grow out of; he may have that cute little spot for life. Several blog post readers have also asked why our young cub doesn’t have the pinkish tint to his fur that Zhen Zhen had when she was a cub; once in a while he seems to have pink fur, but most of the time he does not. Why is there a difference? One of our pandas’ favorite treats is something called a leafeater biscuit. It’s a red biscuit that provides the bears with essential nutrients. When the biscuits are wet and mushy, they leave a pink tint on Bai Yun’s mouth and fur. Consequently, when she gives her cub a bath, he turns pink.

Each time our cub has an exam, we see something new. For example, his ears are starting to get that “Mickey Mouse” look to them, he has webbed toes like his daddy, and he has that cute little black tip on his tail. If you’ve been watching the cub exam videos, you have probably noticed that the keeper and veterinarian staff changes with each exam. The vets take turns with the exam so that everyone can have the neonate exam experience. If a new vet is doing the exam, there’s an experienced vet there as well. Panda keepers each take a turn bringing the cub out for the exam and holding the cub. At least two keepers are needed for an exam, though: one keeper carries the cub, and one occupies and keeps an eye on Bai Yun during the exam.

While everyone’s eyes are on Bai Yun and Cub #5, all of our other bears are also doing quite well. Gao Gao, Su Lin, and Zhen Zhen are each participating in their own training programs, so don’t worry: they’re also getting plenty of attention! I’ve had the pleasure of working with both Gao and ZZ. Each day, Gao has a training session around lunch time. When we open the door to let him out of the exhibit, he goes right to his training station and sits patiently with me. He’s a sweet bear and seems to enjoy the one-on-one attention.

Our little ZZ has her own training sessions now, too, and doesn’t seem so little anymore. During the weaning process, we started her on her own training program as a way to calm her during her separation from Mom. This is the earliest we’ve ever started a training program with one of the pandas, but Zhen has definitely benefited from the experience. She loves the attention! She already knows how to sit when asked, put her paws on the floor, target her nose to my fist, and open her mouth for an oral exam.

Of course, Su Lin is no slouch either! She’s been working with another keeper, learning some very important behaviors, and is starting ultrasound training.

That’s all for this time. Until the next, happy reading!

Juli Borowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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Watching Pandas Grow

Our newest cub in the capable hands of one of his keepers

Our newest cub in capable keeper hands

As we watch our newest cub go through his first few steps of life, it’s fun to remember how he compares to other cubs. Our hearts were pounding as Bai Yun gave birth to her first cub, Hua Mei, and we wondered what kind of mother she would be. She immediately took charge of her cub, and many of you experienced a baby giant panda’s milestones for the first time along with us. I remember being incredibly excited finding out the DNA results on Mei Sheng and realizing we had accomplished a successful natural breeding. And, of course, I remember watching both of these cubs go to China to become part of the breeding program.

Su Lin was the first baby panda I was able to watch from start to present day, and I think there will always be a special place in my heart for that funny little girl. Sometimes I still can’t believe that she’s already of breeding age and will someday go to China to join her siblings in the breeding program. Zhen Zhen still has that baby bear fluff to her, but she has been practicing scent marking, and I catch myself in shock that she’s already at that stage.

Our keepers here at the San Diego Zoo have been thrilled with each experience and know what to expect on a grand scale, but there are still those cases where a little bear will surprise them. Especially our new little boy: he has been growing so fast! Bai Yun has never given us a reason to worry, and we are all so excited to see our newest member begin those first few steps.

Just recently, Bai Yun was given access to her larger garden room so she has a chance to leave the cub for a few minutes to get a break and have some time for herself (all you moms know what that’s like). She’s still close enough to hear her cub in case he calls. As for the cub, he’s eating and sleeping most of the day away.

Often we panda narrators get questions from guests who come through the panda viewing line: “Why would Mom leave him inside” “Why aren’t Mom and cub given access to the public?” “Why do we have to wait until December or January to see him?” We want all of you to know that everything we are doing paves the way for Bai Yun and her cub to have a smooth transition into the public eye, and nothing we are doing is really out of the ordinary.

For many species of bear, the female gives birth during hibernation, the cub nurses for those first few months, taking the stored-up fat from her milk. The cubs would first emerge from their den in the spring and would be a few months old. Giant pandas don’t hibernate, but the cubs still need those first few months in the den for security. Giving Bai Yun access to her sun and garden rooms gives her a place to eat as much as she wants away from the cub but still close enough to hear what’s going on. She does bring the baby into her sun room and either holds him while she eats or gently lays him next to her. All of this is part of Bai Yun’s natural behavior, and we do have our researchers watching and recording.

Thanks for watching Panda Cam, and thanks for sharing these experiences with us!

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

208

Panda Cub Care

panda_exam6_1Hello again, panda fans! It seems that the birth our newest cub has sparked the interest and curiosity of people all around the world. An increasing number of people are calling the San Diego Zoo, sending letters, and posting questions on our blog site. Never fear, your favorite keeper is here (humbly, of course)! Your questions range from “How is Bai taking care of her cub?” to “What was Su Lin doing on the Panda Cam the other morning?” It’s a wide scope and I won’t be able to answer all of them at once, but I will do my best.

First and foremost, Bai Yun is being a wonderful mother, as always. This is my first time with a panda cub, so I’m nervous every time she covers him with bamboo or leaves him on the floor of the bedroom; but Bai is an experienced mom, and she knows what she’s doing. Like any mother who’s had multiple offspring, Bai seems to become more confident in her parenting skills with each cub. When Hua Mei, her firstborn, was a cub, Bai was right there to check on her and to hold her every time she squeaked or moved. With her fifth cub, Bai knows that if she feeds him at a certain time, he’ll fall asleep long enough to let her eat a good meal.

Several people have asked about the bamboo nest in Bai’s cubbing den. Part of being a good mom is providing safe shelter for your offspring; the nest in the den is Bai Yun’s handiwork. About one month before a cub is born, Bai is given access to her birthing den. Keepers cut her normal bamboo diet into 2- or 3-foot lengths (instead of the usual 5- or 6-foot lengths), short enough for her to comfortably carry into the den. In the few weeks before she gives birth, Bai Yun shreds and arranges bamboo to make a soft, warm nest for her cub.

We keepers glance into the den opportunistically to inspect her work. We pull out extra-thick pieces or anything that looks like it’s dangerously sharp. Bai Yun does a wonderful job nest-building, though, and most of her work is left untouched. This is why the bamboo in the den looks dry: once the cub is born, she discontinues her nest-building and focuses all of her energy on feeding her cub and keeping him warm. Bamboo is very low in nutritional value, and a panda can really only afford to focus its energy on one task at a time. This is especially true with mother bears, which do not leave the den for any reason (including eating and drinking) for days at a time before and after the birth of a cub.

When a cub begins to grow, when it begins to nurse and subsequently nap regularly, and when it has its own hair to keep itself warm, the mother can leave the den long enough to eat or drink. Her appetite slowly increases. At first, she eats only one or two bites before returning to her den. However, it has been many weeks since the birth of Bai Yun’s boy, and she is now eating almost at much bamboo as she was during the middle of her pregnancy. She leaves the cub alone in the den to take a good nap while she eats. The cub is now 21 inches (52 centimeters) long, and the little den is getting to be a bit crowded with both Mom and baby in there, so sometimes Bai takes her own naps outside of the den.

Once the cub starts to get larger, Bai will move him outside of the den to encourage him before he’s mobile enough to follow her and leave on his own. At this point in time, even if Bai Yun leaves her cub alone in the den, if he makes one little squeak or cry, Bai immediately stops whatever she is doing. Her ears perk up, she turns toward the den, and attends to her cub.

I hope this information helps. I’m very excited to see how many people read these blog posts and watch our pandas every day. Thank you for your curiosity and for your interest. One of the most important things a keeper can do for their animals is to educate others and to, hopefully, inspire them to learn about and to help the species (in this case, endangered species) that need us.

Juli Borowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Here’s video of the cub’s 6th exam.

297

Panda Cub: In Due Time

Now nearly three weeks of age, Bai Yun’s fifth cub continues to do well and develop right on schedule. The black of the saddle, ears, and legs has set in, a pigmentation change of the skin that precedes the black fur that will grow in to cover those areas in the next several weeks. Although our veterinarians have not yet had a chance to examine the cub, it is likely that the eyes and ears are still closed, as these don’t fully open until several weeks after birth.

When will the vets have a chance to look at the cub? As always, this will depend on Bai Yun. When she develops a regular pattern of den departures and is comfortable staying away from the den for many minutes at a time, then staff will feel more comfortable about shutting the door between her and her offspring in order to access the den to retrieve the cub. Doing it any sooner could cause undue stress for Bai Yun, who is very protective of her young at this stage of the game.

Interestingly, Bai Yun is developing that more relaxed attitude at a slower rate than previous years. The graph below demonstrates that she is allowing the cub to be in contact with the ground for less time than our 2003, 2005, and 2007 cubs at the same age. Time in contact with the ground–either while simultaneously in contact with Mom or independently while she is out of the den–is an indicator to us of Bai Yun’s comfort level, how relaxed she is about caring for the cub. Thus far, she appears to be sustaining a high level of care that prevents her from putting the cub down much. This is one sign to us that, as of day 15 postpartum, she wasn’t yet ready for us to exert any influence over what is happening in the den.

panda_cub_chart

I know it is difficult to wait to get the first color photos of our new little panda. I am sure you are anxious to know the gender of the cub and hear the veterinarian’s reassurances that the youngster is healthy. But we will all need to wait a little longer, because Bai Yun is still very much in charge here. Not to worry: it won’t be that long before she hits her stride and allows us a chance to peek into that den. At that point, you can expect a regular stream of photographic updates as the vets establish their routine health checks with the cub. In due time…

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Hungry?