The Cub's Tenth Week
September 16: Mei Spends More Time With Cub
Mei Xiang entered the training cage yesterday and had her blood drawn for the first time since mid-June. The blood will be analyzed to evaluate her health status. Mei is really enjoying interacting with the animal care staff. She spent most of the day with the cub in contrast to recent days. Mei did go outside a few times, but for not more than four minutes at a time. The cub is so big that it takes her mouth and both paws to awkwardly flip him for a thorough washing. We are still eagerly awaiting those first steps from the cub.
It was a hot and humid day yesterday. Tian Tian enjoyed being sprayed with the hose and played in the stream of water.
September 15: Mei Continues to Be Vigilant
Mei Xiang was given a fruitsicle (frozen diluted apple juice with pieces of apple and pear) outside yesterday. She savored it with her eyes closed for about a half hour. While engaged in her solo activities, resting or eating away from the cub, she remains vigilant. If the cub squeals, she returns to the area adjacent to the den to listen intently. If there are no more sounds from the cub, she returns to her solitary activities, reassured.
Our cub mantra: "The boy is really big!"
September 14: Mei Spends Time Away From Cub
Mei Xiang is spending long periods away from the cub. Yesterday, she was away for eight hours. She went outside but spent most of this time resting on the rockwork in the exhibit enclosures in between feeding bouts. This is perfectly normal behavior. In the wild, female pandas leave their cubs for extended periods to travel and feed on bamboo. It is during this time that cubs may be vulnerable to predation from wild dogs and black bears, as well as other small carnivores. It is also a time when well-intentioned people may think a cub is abandoned and rescue it. Many pandas entered the population prior to the 1990s this way. As we have learned more about their biology, and with increased conservation education programs, this practice has been practically eliminated.
The cub continues to try to stand and walk. He is getting stronger and more coordinated. It is getting harder for Mei to pick him up and move him around, so it's a good thing that pandas have very strong jaw and neck muscles.
September 13: Cub's Growth Is Above Average
All of us who have been watching the cub over the past nine weeks have seen how quickly he has grown. But is he gaining weight faster than other panda cubs? Actually, yes. His average weight gain—measured since his first exam on August 2—has been nearly 2.5 ounces a day. The two cubs born at the San Diego Zoo in 1999 and 2003 gained an average of about 2.1 and 2 ounces per day, respectively, during their first 100 days. Twenty-one cubs born at the breeding facility at Wolong Giant Panda Reserve in China gained an average of 2.1 ounces per day. Our cub's growth is above average but within the reported range of these two dozen cubs. We expect to see a reduction in his growth rate between now and his first birthday, as he will start eating bamboo and reducing his consumption of high-fat milk during this time. See how he's grown.
September 12: Cub Sits Up...Almost
The cub was sitting up this morning against Mei Xiang's arm. Just as we got excited about the fact that he was sitting up like a little adult, Mei moved her arm and he slumped over like a fat, striped caterpillar.
Mei was a very independent mother first thing this morning. She spent time in her enclosures and the scale area, as well as outdoors. She sat and ate bamboo in the yard. Just when we think she has settled down for a while, she moves to a new location. It is almost as though she is revisiting all her favorite places from before the pregnancy and indulging herself with their comforts. She also came into the training cage to interact with us. A second half a milliliter milk sample was collected. We have a lot to learn about milking pandas, as it is possible to collect up to five to ten milliliters from a nipple, with 40 being the record.
September 11: Mei Leaves Cub for Longer Periods of Time
Mei Xiang spent six hours away from her cub yesterday. She ate and rested in the two exhibit enclosures adjacent to the den, and went outside and wandered about briefly. She was also very responsive to the keepers and went into the training cage.
While mom is away, the cub mostly rests or sleeps, with the occasional yawn or stretch, and doesn't seem upset by her absence. The cub remains quiet and doesn't vocalize at all. At this point, a mother panda in the wild would also be leaving her cub for increasingly long times each day to forage for bamboo. The best strategy for the cub is to be quiet so as not to attract potential predators.
September 10: Mei's Toy
The cub is nine weeks old today. He continues to try to stand and walk, but his hind legs are not quite cooperative.
Mei Xiang has retrieved a toy from the hay in the den. It is a toy made for big dogs called a "kong." She has picked it up and manipulated it a few times, but most of the time it is just lying in the nest—this is the object many cam watchers have asked about. Mei cradled the kong during her pregnancy, but immediately abandoned it when the squealing and squirming cub made his appearance.
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