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Giant pandas are black and white bears that live in temperate-zone bamboo forests in central China. Among the best recognized—but rarest—animals in the world, they have come to symbolize endangered species and conservation efforts. As few as 1,600 giant pandas survive in the mountain forests of central China. More than 300 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world; most of these pandas are in China.
Giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are at the National Zoo under a Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement, signed in January 2011, between the Zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. This extends the Zoo’s giant panda program through 2015. Mei and Tian are the focus of an ambitious research, conservation, and breeding program designed to preserve this endangered species.
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To accommodate as many online visitors as possible, the cam will time out after 5 minutes.
Watching giant pandas: The panda cams provide a window into the world of the Zoo's giant pandas—female Mei Xiang and male Tian Tian. There are only about 1,600 giant pandas living in the wild in China.
More Panda Cams
If you stop by the red panda habitat on Asia Trail, you may notice something new: TWO red pandas! Shama has been joined by a new male red panda, Rusty. Her previous mate Tate left last fall to be paired for breeding with a red panda at the Erie Zoo.
Rusty comes to us from the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in Nebraska. He turns one year old in July, and the Species Survival Plan has paired him with Shama for breeding. (Red panda breeding season takes place between January and March each year.)
After a 30-day quarantine period, keepers released him into the red panda exhibit on Asia Trail on early last week. The introduction between Rusty and Shama went smoothly, just as keepers expected. Rusty approached Shama curiously and Shama postured so Rusty would know she was in charge. Other than short interactions the pair remained separate for most of that first day.
On the second day keepers saw the pair sharing space and even spied Shama grooming Rusty—a sign that this duo is doing well already.
You can see Rusty and Shama every day in the red panda yard on Asia Trail, next to the Panda House. If you don’t see them in the yard, they may be soaking up a few minutes of cool air conditioning in their off-exhibit area.
You’ll be able to recognize Rusty by the blond coloration on his hips and tail!
Rusty (left) and Shama
This week’s giant panda update, written by keeper Marty Dearie, details how he and other keepers work with Mei Xiang and Tian Tian on training behaviors behind-the-scenes at the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat.
How do you draw a blood sample from a giant panda? If the panda is Mei Xiang or Tian Tian keepers and veterinarians just ask. Mei Xiang and Tian Tian participate in a training program that helps us take care of them. Training allows keepers to ask the bear to do a certain behavior, such as “stand up.” When the bear stands up we reward him or her with a treat. Some of their favorite treats are honey diluted in water or a piece of fruit.
The behaviors that we ask the bears to do during training help us during veterinary exams. For many years now both bears have been trained for voluntary blood draws. When we need to get a blood sample from Mei or Tian we will do that in the training chute. They will present their forearms when we ask and get a reward. The veterinarians are then able to draw blood from the bears, who will continue to receive rewards for holding the position for the duration of the blood draw. It is an amazing feat to be able to draw blood from an awake bear, and it requires a lot of trust between a keeper and a panda.
Training has also helped us monitor Mei Xiang at the end of past breeding seasons. She willingly participates in abdominal ultrasounds for our veterinarians. We use ultrasounds in addition to behavioral and hormonal monitoring to try and determine if Mei Xiang is pregnant or pseudopregnant. Just like her other training sessions, Mei gets honey water or fruit for participating in ultrasounds.
We started working with Mei on a new training behavior recently. We would like to be able to collect milk from her because there is not much data out there on the nutritional composition of giant panda milk. If Mei Xiang allows us to collect milk from her we could learn much more.
While these husbandry goals are the main reason we train the pandas, it is not the only reason. Training also provides the animals with a chance to use their brains. When we challenge them to learn a behavior we are engaging part of the brain that may not otherwise be used during a normal day.