Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



The Cub's 14th Month

September 8: A Change of Scene

Tai ShanThe temporary fencing that was part of the Asia Trail construction project is being removed from Yard 2 for the second day. Yesterday, Mei Xiang and Tai Shan stayed indoors all day and shifted into Tian Tian's indoor areas, while Tian was locked outdoors. At first both Mei and Tai were hesitant to shift through the metal transfer cage, into Tian's den. Tai Shan opened his eyes very wide and when he walked through, he picked his feet up higher than usual and placed them carefully along the way.

Once they entered Tian's areas, it was time to give all of it a good thorough sniff before settling in to eat and play. We noticed that Tai slept touching Mei for the first few hours. By the middle of the day, he was off on his own. When it was time to return to their regular enclosures, it took some coaxing for Tai to decide to come back over. He made this second trip with much more confidence.

Tian Tian spent the day outdoors in Yard 1. Overall he was fairly content. He did climb into the old willow tree to huff and honk at something he found annoying. We could not figure out exactly what was bothering him. At about 2:30, when the keepers were not where he expected them to be, he returned to the tree again to bleat repeatedly. Bleating is a panda contact call that Tian also uses to locate his keepers. Once Tian came indoors he was only mildly interested in the evidence that the neighbors—Mei and Tai—had been visiting.

Over the next few days and weeks, we will begin to give our pandas access to different areas. Tai Shan will have an opportunity to explore Tian's outdoor area (Yard 1). The excitement is building as we approach the ultimate in introductions... to the new expanded David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat on Asia Trail!

September 7: When Stung, Take a Nap

Most of us vividly remember the first time, and probably every time, we were stung by a bee or wasp. When I was four, I had an unfortunate encounter with a wasp nest hanging under a picnic table in the backyard. My mother followed my siren-like wail through the house to find me with my hand jammed between the mattress and box springs, in an effort to bring an end to the awful pain.

Tai Shan's first sting came a few weeks ago, when he was quite contentedly nibbling on a slice of pear in the shade, while the keepers replenished his bamboo. All of a sudden he jumped up and started running, shaking his head vigorously. No matter how many places he moved to, he could not shake off that feeling. Tai eventually fell asleep on the floor of the water-chilled grotto. Mei was completely unaware of his discomfort. This is the time of year when yellow jacket wasps forage far and wide, attracted to anything sweet. One of them apparently stung Tai on or in his mouth as he was munching on the pear. We did not see any unusual redness or swelling, and after a good nap all seemed forgotten.

We know very little about what animals remember and how they use these memories. We have been studying memory and how animals organize and recall what they know, through two cognitive research projects at the Zoo's Think Tank and Great Ape House. We are addressing these questions with two primate species, orangutans and gorillas. It is much easier to learn about thinking ability by working with species that are so much like us. Perhaps one day some ingenious scientist will tackle this question working with pandas and other bears.

Congratulations to Zoo Atlanta on the September 6 birth of a giant panda!

September 1: Right on Target

Tai Shan now weighs 65 pounds. When he was measured in a seated position, with his paws on the mesh, his height was 27 inches. On August 15, we saw Tai doing handstands up against the wall to scent mark. Pandas rub their anal glands against surfaces to leave a sticky substance that is interesting only to other pandas. One study of scent-marking behavior in pandas says that the height of the placement of these marks is very significant. The higher the placement, the more status the individual panda may have, when it comes to access to females during the breeding season. Female pandas seemed to focus on these higher placed messages. Tian has rarely been seen marking from this position. We do not know what the significance of this positioning has for cubs, but its practice holds promise for the future.

Tai reaches for a targetTai is doing very well with target training. A target could be any object, even your finger, which a trainer uses to create focus and direction. It is paired with a treat to further enhance its value. Tai's target is a wooden dowel with a tennis ball on the end. Tai gets a small piece of a leaf-eater biscuit when he touches it. Tai Shan now follows his target all the way to the back of the yard from the grotto. Yesterday, he followed it down from the willow tree for the first time! Targets are very valuable tools to help shape or link up a set of animal behaviors that you want repeated. In this case, we want Tai to learn to come directly inside when the keeper requests this of him. Good job, Tai!

August 24: New Exhibit Opens in Four Weeks*

In just four weeks, Tai Shan, Mei Xiang, and Tian Tian will enjoy two new outdoor areas and lots more indoor space. New features include a water-cooled grotto, pools and streams, a fog grove, and a cooled rock on which a panda and a visitor can sit side by side, separated only by glass. Visitors will have other opportunities for up-close encounters with the bears, see them from more vantage points, learn about them at the fantastic Clint Fields Conservation Plaza, and more. Read more about the new habitat.

* Please note: In early September, the date for the opening of the panda habitat and Asia Trail was changed to October 17. more

← next month previous month →