Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



The Cub's 15th Month

October 6: So Many New Choices

Tai Shan, Mei Xiang, and Tian Tian are all enjoying the new yards of the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat. They have settled in fairly smoothly over the past week. It is rewarding to watch them spend an hour or more exploring the new enclosure. Currently the two new yards are not divided, so they form one large hillside. It is great to see the pandas climb along the ridges, getting even more exercise.

The adults have passed on the opportunity to cross the deadfall, which arches high over the stream. Tai Shan crossed without hesitation. Tai has also singled out a willow tree to sleep in, already. Tian Tian seems to prefer the deadfall for resting and Mei Xiang is happy snuggled up to one of the many rocks strewn around the enclosure. Choices, how wonderful to have choices! Both Tian and Tai have been snacking on the leaves of one poor sugar maple, which is beginning to show the effects of their attention. This is the first time they have had access to this tree species. It reminds me how little we know about the food choices wild pandas make.

September 28: Tian's Day of Exploration

This update will be all about Tian Tian. After more than 14 months of panda cub updates, he deserves his very own, and especially after the excellent job he did investigating the new habitat this morning for the first time. Tian paused at the downward sloping chute three times before heading down and into the new enclosure. Tian proceeded to explore the entire yard over the next two hours, stopping only to rest a few times to catch his breath and scratch his feet together. Well, there may be a few areas he missed that we could mention. For example, he did not find the new water-chilled grotto. Tian walked over the entire yard, along the fence lines as well as through part of the waterfall. With effort, he opted to climb the rocky terraces instead of going the long way around. We all groaned for him as he had to first stretch up with his forepaw and hook it on a notch before placing the opposite foot securely for the effort to haul his 275-pound body upward.

It was great to see Tian engaged in exploration for such a long time. How enriching it is for the pandas to rotate enclosures. This big new habitat, with its rolling terrain and many nooks and perches, will keep all our pandas very occupied. Other than the recent yard switches with the neighbors, Tian's life has been fairly routine. On his way back indoors, he stopped to participate in some training at the specially designed squeeze cage. A year-and-a-half break from this area must have really been only 24 hours in panda time! Tian responded to all requests and had a blood sample collected by the vets. What a brilliant panda! After such a busy morning, Tian Tian fell into a deep slumber as soon as he came inside into enclosure three. We let him rest there, as we did not want to disturb such a well-deserved nap.

September 26: Napping, Bathed in Golden Sunlight

Tai Shan and Mei Xiang spent an idyllic morning immersed in their new habitat. Mei Xiang wandered around half of the exhibit. Tai Shan was more conservative, sticking to the area near the doorway on the right (as you face the exhibit). What was most encourageing was to see Mei curl up for a nap at the edge of the moat, a true sign of acceptance. Later on she shifted forward to hug a rock at its edge and resumed her nap bathed in golden sunlight. What a beautiful, peaceful morning. Tai Shan entertained himself by repeated rearing and prancing like a marionette guided by a misdirected puppeteer. Tai added in head stands and backward walking to his repertoire of usually successful play solicitations, but Mei was too sleepy to notice. Play behavior is a second sign that a new level of comfort has been reached. Tai also tried to stretch out along the rock edge with his feet and head downward for his first swan dive or perhaps belly flop into the moat. While some of us badly wanted the spectacle, others were relieved when he opted to walk around to the water's edge. Perhaps it would have been too much excitement on this first peaceful day.

I forgot to mention in my last update that after the first yard introduction last Friday, Tai Shan went up a tree in Yard 2 just before 5 pm, and ignored all requests from his keeper to come down. He remained on strike until 1 a.m. Saturday morning. This is his latest night out yet and perhaps the ultimate statement of his opinion about electrified “hot vines.”

September 25: Panda Explorers

On Friday we introduced Mei Xiang and Tai Shan to the new yards of the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat. Both of them entered the yard quite readily, although Mei preferred to use the alternate route, which did not involve the downward sloping chute. Mei Xiang spent most of her time wandering throughout the enclosures and investigating its ridges, rock falls, and trees. She did not cross the stream to the small area across from Asia Trail's giant salamander exhibit.

Tai Shan did less exploring, which came to an abrupt and unhappy end when he touched one of the hot vines on a tree close to the perimeter. Tai barked sharply and ran along the fence line and back inside to safety. Mei, surprisingly, was too engrossed in her detective work to attend to his protest and rapid transit across the yard. Toward the end of the introductory period, Tai did return to the yard briefly after recovering in the safety of the transfer chutes. (Learn more about hot wires.)

Yesterday, Tai Shan weighed in at 70 pounds. He has a new trick. He has discovered that he can reach the windows in the doors and use them to shift, all by himself, over to the next enclosure. Tai reached over to the window ledge from the mountain in enclosure two, balanced in its frame for several seconds before disappearing into enclosure three. One can imagine him sliding his paws down the door on the other side before letting go! This morning he tried to repeat the feat by climbing onto his mother to get through the window from enclosure two to the patio. Mei Xiang gave him a swift embrace and pulled him out of the window so she could stand up and take a look. Those latches we had ordered prior to his birth are now going to get installed!

This morning Mei Xiang continued her investigation of the new yards including the area across the stream. She confidently entered the yard via the downward sloping chute, after some practice sessions over the weekend. Mei also sat and ate bamboo very contentedly with her back against the rocky terrace wall by a viewing window. Tai cautiously entered the yard several times but did not go very far beyond the area by the entrance tunnel. With time, his confidence will return. It is a real treat to see them in this beautiful new landscape.

September 21: Getting Adjusted

Tai Shan weighed in at 69 pounds yesterday evening. On Tuesday evening, Tai declined to come down from his tree until 8:30 p.m. Earlier in the day, he entered the transfer chutes to the new yards for the first time. Perhaps he needed a good long nap after all the excitement of wandering the chute system. Mei Xiang is still getting used to the sound of the new shift doors while Tai did not mind them at all. Tai already seems to be drawn to the cool dark area of the tunnel, which connects Yard 2 to Yards 3 and 4, and passes under the new, elevated walkway by the bamboo storage shed. If this area ever becomes a hang out, we may never see him again!

Our new bamboo storage, by the way, is very state of the art. The building provides complete climate control as well as a timed fogging system. The bamboo will lie on stainless steel racks. The panda staff are excited about the new fancy shed. The bamboo should stay fresher for much longer. Currently, Mei Xiang and Tai Shan are choosing to dine alfresco on the ornamental grasses in the yards.

Tai and Mei playingMei and Tai are also very comfortable in Tian's yard. They had some great play sessions at the front of Tian's yard on the deadfall over the past several days. Mei took a nap in Tian's favorite place at the intersection of the limbs. She stripped the wood and scent-anointed it by rubbing her body very thoroughly over the newly roughened surfaces. Rotating enclosures is very stimulating and enriching for pandas and other zoo animals.

September 18: If Trees Could Talk

Tai Shan weighed in at 67.5 pounds on September 12. After a few days in Tian’s indoor enclosures, Mei Xiang and Tai Shan were given access to Tian Tian’s yard. Guess what was Tai’s favorite thing to do in Tian’s yard? Climb new trees! Tai climbed way up in the saw-toothed oak tree and perched about 35 feet up. Tai also liked both willow trees. Mei’s favorite, well-worn willow was also a place for his repose.

If trees could talk, what a story that tree could tell. It has been the playground for Mei and Tian in their adolescence, losing many branches during their antics. It has been the escape perch of choice for Mei to avoid Tian’s advances until she was in full estrus, or heat. However, both adult pandas will still drop their sedate demeanor to hang upside down, and swing in one of their less frequent bouts of self-play.

Last week was very busy. One highlight came on Friday when Mei Xiang very cautiously entered the new chute system to travel to the training cage. We saw the classic wary behavior, when bears lean and inch forward with encouragement from the keepers, while always keeping one hind foot stretched as far back as possible in the safe zone of a familiar place. It is amazing how far they can stretch. Once Mei arrived at the training cage you could almost feel her relax, even though its new orientation had definitely caused her to pause and reflect. It was as though the past six months had not happened and she was ready for a training session! We were able to collect a blood sample. Mei Xiang got lots of praise and a few treats for her effort.

This week we are continuing to introduce Mei Xiang and Tai Shan to their new chute system and, hopefully, the new yards. So far Tai has not followed Mei into the new area as he has been too busy sleeping. There may be times when our pandas may not be visible to visitors, but they should be available by web cam.

panda costumed character throws the first pitchThanks to the Washington Nationals for hosting the Zoo's “panda crew” at their September 17 game—our panda costumed character threw out the first pitch! The Nationals helped us announce the October 17 opening of the new David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat and Asia Trail.

lucky baseball fans

A lucky row of baseball fans won panda plush animals and collectible Asia Trail cards.

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