The Cub's 27th–31st Months
Today, Tai Shan got his first-ever comprehensive physical exam. He was anesthetized early in the morning and brought to the Zoo’s hospital, where staff veterinarians, joined by a veterinary dentist and a veterinary cardiologist, performed a thorough routine health exam. Veterinarians said Tai, who now weighs 157 pounds, is in excellent health. After the exam, he was returned to his indoor enclosure to recover from the anesthesia.
Tian Tian has fully recovered from his surgery and all the special attention he received on Sunday, and is back to some serious eating. It almost makes you hungry to watch him eat on these cold mornings. Tian’s jaws are in constant motion, as he power chews through his bamboo.
We continue to monitor his eye closely. It looks like he has the faintest pink eyeliner along the bottom inner edge of his right eye. He will continue on antibiotic eye drops, which are applied twice daily. Tian is such a voracious eater that he hardly notices the squirt as he chomps down on a biscuit. Lately, the biscuits seem to go down in two bites and he is ready for the next one! It is just enough time to place the drops in a blink of a panda’s eye.
Tian Tian, our adult male giant panda, has developed a condition called “cherry eye,” involving his right eye. This perfectly describes the protrusion of the third eyelid, with its associated tear gland, out of the inner corner of the eye. The condition is usually caused by infection or trauma; certain breeds of dogs are more prone to it than others. Due to the sudden onset, we believe Tian may have injured it interacting with Mei Xiang and/or hit the corner of his eye with a bamboo stalk. Tian is being treated with steroid and antibiotic drops for now, to see if the gland and lid will retract back into place. He will remain separated from Mei Xiang so that the exposed tissue is not harmed further by any rough play. Now we all squint when looking at him. Amazingly, Tian is completely unaffected and has not seemed to notice anything!
On the morning of December 16, Tian Tian was anesthetized for a thorough eye examination. Due to the condition of his third eyelid, it was decided that it was best to remove it. The third eyelid is rarely seen and covers the eye usually when it is closed. During the anesthesia, Tian received a complete physical, including semen collection. Any time a Zoo animal is anesthetized, we try to collect as many samples and as much data as we can. Tian appears to be in excellent health. We will await all the lab tests to confirm this morning’s assessment.
Snow days are heavenly days for pandas. Yesterday, while many of us were sliding our way though an icy rush hour, the pandas were getting down to some serious eating and play sessions.
Oh, what joy it is to see pandas play in the snow! Tian Tian and Mei Xiang have enjoyed several rough and tumble play sessions. The ability to roll and slide with more speed seems to especially excite them. Mei always reminds Tian that she is still definitely in charge of the start as well as the finish of each play session.
Tai also spent time bounding through the snow, leaping up on his hind legs and pouncing into the air, down with a quick twist to rear up and do it again! It was also so much fun watching him rub snow all over his body and then shake it off just as vigorously.
The pandas are eating the yellow groove and bissetti bamboo species. A mere month ago it was an effort more them to do more than nibble on the leaves. Now the eating is more focused and they are beginning to consume the stalk, or culm, with enthusiasm.
The pandas are sharing a new toy called ping’s pearls as they switch yards. It is a string of yellow and red balls that ends in a thick tab of fire-hose. Designed for polar bears, it seems to be holding up under the attention of those bamboo-crushing jaws. It is a definite hit. When they tire of it on the ground, it gets carried up a tree where it dangles like an ornament and is even more exciting. Want to get a toy for the Zoo's animals?
It has been very quiet around the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat over the past month. Fall weather has yet to arrive, so all of our pandas are still in their summer mode. During the hot weather, bamboo consumption decreases, along with their overall activity level.
The adults tend to have a day of wild play interspersed between more lethargic days spent mostly at rest. If there is a play bout, it doesn't last long. Tian Tian is frequently seen trying to initiate play. Mei Xiang responds with moans and even swats in protest, but if Tian is really, really persistent, sometime she will give in. Recently, Tian picked up a previously ignored ball and played with it right in front of Mei. This tactic worked like a charm!
Tai Shan seems to be following the adults' pattern. He has days of being very alert and wildly playful, followed by a day or two of quiet and rest. On Tuesday, he was playing with a plastic trash can dribbled with honey when he decided to take a rest right inside with only his rear end exposed.
Tai’s weight has remained at about 150 pounds since July. We do not expect his appetite, and his weight, to increase until cold weather sets in. Tai has recently been observed grazing on the grass in the yards. The pandas will also pull up the longer ornamental grasses, chew off the base of the stems, and discard the rest. In the fall and winter, grasses store their carbohydrates and sugars in their bases. This is probably why the pandas shred and eat bamboo stalks over the winter months.
The National Zoo is supporting a research project being conducted by the Memphis Zoo and Texas A&M University to understand the seasonal variations in the composition of bamboo, with which pandas seem to be so in tune, as they seasonally adjust their intake. The focus of this study is to analyze fecal samples using near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) to determine what the pandas are consuming. Further study of the non-fiber components of different species of bamboo will also be undertaken.
This technology may eventually be extremely valuable when applied to fecal samples from wild pandas. Data from zoo pandas will provide important baseline reference data. Information on maturing cubs like Tai Shan is especially important as he makes the first year of transition from consuming high-energy milk to a diet of low-energy bamboo of variable composition.
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