Panda Trek


Talkin’ about Takins

Closely related to sheep, takins are native to China.

As guests walk through Panda Trek at the San Diego Zoo, they are always surprised at our “cool goats” on the hillside. Indeed, the takins have been amazing to watch and work with over the years and have been a huge success for the zoological community here in the United States. Currently, we have a female herd of five individuals ranging in age from 14 to almost 2. They each have their own personalities, and society in the takin world can be a little dramatic!

Summer is our matriarch and the boss of the younger females. She is also the largest and very good with the younger females. As keepers, we do not go in with the takins, so we have to move the girls either into the barn or up onto the hillside yard. Our typical goal is to always move Summer first and the rest will follow her. Behind her is her sister, Eve, who is the bossy one and has the biggest attitude. She likes to throw her weight around and act like she’s in charge until her sister, Summer, tells her that’s enough. Summer and Eve have a younger sister named Duli, who is several years younger but who also likes the idea of being in charge of someone. These three females are the daughters of the last matriarch, Blondie, and challenge each other on a fairly regular basis about who is next in line.

The two youngsters in the herd are named Mei and Mu. Mei is the daughter of Summer and is in the awkward teenage phase where she is unsure of herself. She does her best to stay close to Mom for her protection, although Summer is starting to make Mei take care of herself and will even push her away to get her to an independent point. Mu is a bit of a stinker; she likes to pick fights with Duli and Mei but have her mother finish them. She is full of energy and has a very sweet disposition toward her keepers. One of her favorite things to do is go to the top of the hillside exhibit and wait for a clear path down the hill so she can run and jump the entire way down!

Female takins can live into their late teens, but being such a large animal, we do tend to see arthritis develop in their joints. Luckily, we have an amazing vet staff who are always ahead of the game, making sure we are as proactive as possible with possible medical issues.

Takins are found in the high mountains of the Sichuan Province of China and are used to climbing, jumping, and running on uneven terrain. As keepers, we have a blast watching them chase each other and play on the hillside. We also like to hang browse for them in high positions so that they stand on their hind legs and stretch to get those leaves.

These girls are wonderful ambassadors for their species, and as keepers and educators we are always so happy to hear guests get excited about these ladies. We think they are quite special and are always happy to share our stories and knowledge with our guests.

Click here to learn more about takins.

Anastasia Horning is a keeper and educator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Wish List: Enrichment for All.


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.


Pandas: Main Viewing Open!

Yun Zi kicks back to nibble on some bamboo in the main viewing area.

Yun Zi kicks back to nibble on some bamboo in the main viewing area.

Wednesday evening, we were able to open up the main viewing area of Panda Trek at the San Diego Zoo for our guests again. The walkway is now giving our guests two opportunities to view the pandas: you can walk down the front row and loop into the back row before exiting the exhibit, rather than having to choose one row or the other. The two enclosures are pretty much the same, except for one thing: the grass is finally greener and longer! Right before we began construction on the walkway, you may remember that we were able to lay some sod out, and in the several weeks that the bears have not been in the main viewing area, the grass has gotten nice and lush for the bears to rest in or play in.

Yun Zi was the first to get out into the enclosure, and I know many of you are looking forward to being able to view him again. Currently, Yun Zi weighs about 200 pounds (90 kilograms) and is looking great. Yun Zi seemed comfortable back out in the public eye, and our guests got some great views of him. From past experience, I know that the next few days will be interesting to watch as he explores the exhibit again, scent marks the walls and structures, and, of course, messes up the grass.

Bai Yun and her cub, Xiao Liwu, were brought inside yesterday as soon as we got the word that the main viewing area was ready. Keepers took advantage of the cub being out of a tree and were able to shuffle him inside with Mom last night rather than waiting until this morning, because we all know that if that cub gets up into the tree and doesn’t want to come down, we will be out of luck for viewing! Bai Yun and the cub will be given access to the main exhibit today. Keepers spent the early part of the morning making sure the exhibit was baby proofed before allowing mother and cub access. This entails making sure that branches are not too overgrown or too close to the outer area.

The keepers have put enrichment out that they know the cub enjoys in an attempt to keep him down closer to the ground, but remember that he has a mind of his own and that panda cubs do love to be up high in the trees at this age. So, if you are unable to get a decent view of him in person, or on Panda Cam,, please be patient.

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


Pandas Move a Bit

Mr. Wu and Mom wrestle in the north exhibit's hammock

Mr. Wu and Mom wrestle in the north exhibit’s hammock

We are pleased to announce that the front viewing area of the panda exhibit in the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Trek is being remodeled so that our guests will have multiple opportunities to view the pandas. In preparation for the construction, we did some panda shuffling. Bai Yun and little Wu are currently in the north exhibit, which is open to Zoo guests. As you may recall, this is the exhibit where Xiao Liwu made his public debut back in January! Pandas Yun Zi and Gao Gao are in off-exhibit areas not accessed by Panda Cam, but rest assured they are getting plenty of attention from their keepers. We are not sure how long the construction will take: perhaps a week or so.

Thank you so much for your understanding, and please come visit us during the construction to say “Hi” to the cub!

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


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.


New Scents for Pandas

Gao Gao: a panda and his bamboo

The keepers at the San Diego Zoo are dedicated to enriching our animals’ lives and challenging them to exhibit their best abilities on a daily basis. A very common way of exercising our pandas’ sense of smell is to add new smells to their exhibit. Recently, one of the keepers added rosemary powder to the exhibit, and it certainly paid off for our Panda Trek visitors. Yun Zi constantly rolled in the powder and covered his entire body. Not every scent will inspire this same reaction; in fact, if the panda doesn’t like the scent at all, quite often they will completely ignore it and move on to other enrichment in the exhibit.

Keepers are always excited to have new scents and spices to try with their animals. Gao Gao had a lot of fun with apple-pie spice: he wore himself out rolling in it and fell asleep in the spice that the keeper had put out for him. Gao Gao is one of our toughest critics regarding what scents we put out and often shows that he prefers a stronger, rather than subtle, smell.

Yun Zi: How much longer will his hammock last?

Another way our keepers keep the animals busy is changing the exhibit, and sometimes the animals themselves let us know that an object in their exhibit needs to go. On Thursday, December 6, Yun Zi was climbing around on his logs right before his final feeding of the day. He was being his normal, active self, and decided to bounce on part of his climbing structure, breaking the end off! Being a bear, Yun Zi is very good at figuring out how to change things in the exhibit and even move them around. Our keepers have come to know that when cleaning up after Yun Zi, you really don’t know what to expect on a daily basis.

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Nighttime Pandas.

Note: Plans are underway for the installation of Yun Zi’s artificial tree, which many of you helped to fund. That should happen in just a few months!


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.


Panda Pregnancy Watch in Full Force

Bai Yun has been sequestered behind the scenes at Panda Trek for some time now in order to provide her the solitude and environment most conducive to a successful pregnancy and cub-rearing experience. Surely many of you are wondering: is Bai Yun showing any signs of pregnancy? Until about a week ago, the answer was “no.” During most of the time since breeding in spring, she has been her normal, hungry, and active self.

We have been tracking many behavioral and physiological parameters that could give us a clue as to her pregnancy status, one of which is her appetite for bamboo. A decline in bamboo feeding is one of the first reliable behavioral indicators that something is happening with Bai Yun. When we see that she has begun leaving the leafy greens behind at a meal, we know that we are about three to four weeks from a potential birthing window.

Guess what? She started falling of her bamboo feeding late last week.

But hold on. Bamboo feeding generally gives us a broad idea of a birthing window, but it does not actually tell us if she is pregnant. Pseudopregnant females also experience similar changes in feeding patterns. So while we might have a picture of when a birth might occur, we cannot say for sure that a cub is on the way.

Bai Yun has been sitting for regular ultrasounds and thermo-imaging procedures, and we are collecting urine for hormone assays as well. I can tell you that her hormone profile is in full swing, and the ultrasounds have shown some positive changes indicating the hormones are having the desired effect on Bai Yun’s uterus. But again, all of this is consistent with pseudopregnant females as well.

As a result of these changes, we have given her access to her birthing den. In it, she has begun building her nest with bits of bamboo. She occasionally takes short naps in the den. She is showing us more positive pregnancy—and pseudopregnancy—behavior.

And so we wait. The days ahead will be telling. If we are able to visualize a fetus via ultrasound, we will know this is a true pregnancy. Keep your fingers crossed!

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, The Bears Thank You.


Yun Zi: Favorite Cues

I LOVE training my keepers!

Training animals is one of my favorite things to do as a zookeeper. We get to spend extra time with them and get to enjoy the challenge of teaching the animals an action we want them to do. With most training at the Zoo, we try to keep the “cues” (the word and hand signal to tell the animal what to do) fairly the same for all of our carnivores. We use both a word cue and a hand signal when asking for a behavior in case there is a language barrier or an older animal is losing its hearing or sight. After a cue is presented, we use a “bridge” (the signal that a reward is coming). For the bridge we use the word “good” or a clicker.

Panda youngster Yun Zi has a long list of behaviors he knows or is currently learning. Many of them are easy ones, and a few are more complex. He knows:

Target (touch his nose to keeper’s fist)
Paws Down
Paws Up
Down (lay down)
Touch (to touch his paws and nails)
Open (mouth open)
Side (lay on his side)
Roll (roll over, both directions)
Inside (shifting into a bedroom)
Over (to move to the other side of a door)
Follow (following, while walking in the tunnel)
Out Out (to go onto exhibit)

He is working on the following cues:

Paw (put his paw through the blood-draw sleeve)
Hearing study (touching the red circle when he hears a tone played)

Most of these behaviors are standard for all three pandas here at the San Diego Zoo, with the exception of “Roll.” This is a great behavior to teach an animal so you can see his or her entire body, and this is a fun one for Yun Zi. The next time you visit Panda Trek, watch for when the keepers are done cleaning the exhibit, and you might catch a short training session with one of the bears.

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Yun Zi Training.


Yun Zi: Busy Panda Boy

Yun Zi ponders his next move.

Yun Zi was definitely a busy boy on Saturday, May 19! The keepers gave him plenty of enrichment to keep him occupied. He received a tub full of ice, two hard-plastic Boomer balls filled with carrots, yams, apples, and herbivore biscuits, and a burlap sack filled with hay.

As soon as the bedroom door opened, our young panda ran to the tub and began to go through the ice, rubbing the cubes all over his head. He then tipped the tub over, spreading the ice everywhere, and tumbled down the hill, bringing the tub with him. Our guests were enthralled and were laughing and snapping as many photos as they could! Yun Zi even chased his Boomer ball around the exhibit, almost like a kid chasing a soccer ball.

After a lot of playing and running around for almost two hours, he FINALLY took a nap. What a day in the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Trek!

Alyssa Medeiros is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Gao Gao and the Tub.