Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



The Cub's 13th Week

October 7: A Familiar Routine

Mei explored Tian's yard again yesterday, and the cub continued trying to walk. It's only a matter of time before he will be able to run and climb trees

October 6: Mei Xiang's Excursion

Yesterday afternoon, about 5 p.m., we gave Mei Xiang access to Tian Tian’s outdoor yard after he had gone inside. Mei Xiang wandered around the yard and sniffed at Tian Tian’s droppings. She also looked carefully at her favorite willow tree—one she often rested in before becoming a mother. To our relief, she didn’t decide to climb it and settle in for the night. After a few minutes, she came back indoors.

The cub was standing better on his hind legs. He took a few steps forward in a sort of half-crawl, half-walk, but is not yet crawling or walking with confidence. Any day now, though, we expect him to take off.

October 5: Pandas and Sound

Those of you tuning into the web cam may have noticed that we've been having audio problems. However, you are not missing anything, as sound does not play a major role in a panda's day. Pandas quietly while their hours away, eating and resting. Silence has now enveloped the life of Mei and the cub. The cub was very vocal during the first weeks of his life. He would squeal or grunt more than a hundred times during a three-hour observation period. Now he vocalizes fewer than ten times during this time frame. He is mostly silent when Mei leaves him alone in the nest. His recent efforts to stand are accompanied by soft whines. Mei has not vocalized to the cub.

Mei Xiang is an exceptionally vocal female when she interacts with Tian. We may hear moans and squeals, which escalate to higher pitched squeals and barks if Tian is being especially pushy and annoying. Usually, their gentle play is silent. Tian will bleat to solicit attention from Mei and the staff. He is always hopeful that interacting with staff will lead to food. Bleating is a friendly vocalization. It is soft and pleasing to hear, like the bleating of sheep in an evening meadow. Our pandas will also huff and honk when something bothers them. We frequently cannot tell if there is a real cause, or if it is just a panda day dream. It is during the brief breeding season that we are treated to the full range of their vocalizations, which consists of bleats, barks, chirps, moans, growls and squeals, as well as combinations of these. Very little is known about panda vocalizations, the variation between individual pandas, and the context of their expression.

October 4: Mei Returns Cub to Den Again

The cub had a quick exam this morning. He weighs 11.4 pounds, and his incisors and molars have erupted through the gum line.

Mei Xiang was given a fruitsicle outdside and stayed away from the cub for an hour. The fruitsicle was wrapped in a bed sheet, to give Mei a challenge. Once the sheet was unwrapped, Mei cradled it as she savored the fruitsicle.

We returned the cub to a hay bed in one of the indoor exhibits. Mei spotted him there upon her entry to the enclosure. She briefly looked into the den before grabbing him by the scruff of his neck and dragging him home to the den. This activity again took three minutes. Once he begins to crawl out of the den on his own, she will be busy keeping him where she wants him. Perhaps by then she will be more accepting of his relocation.

October 3: Family Resemblance

We have noticed, now that the cub is larger, he seems to be developing markings similar to his mother's. The black band across his back now looks more uniform. He also has a white patch at the back of his ankles, above his hind feet, just like mom.

Mei Xiang tried to tuck the cub in between her body and the wall like she used to when he was much smaller. This was one of her favorite sleeping position for many weeks. He squirmed and grunted, and kicked his feet so hard that Mei had to change her position. At five percent of her weight (and 40 times his birth weight), he can certainly get his point across!

October 2: Pink Pandas?

When pandas are born, they are hairless and pink. Within a few weeks, they grow black and white hair and remain black and white the rest of their lives, right? In fact, panda cubs often take on a pink hue. Studies of lab rats and light-colored dogs have shown that saliva, as well as tears, have chemical pigments and iron, which form a compound that stains the fur. As panda mothers lick their cubs to stimulate urination and defecation and to clean them, the cubs' white hair becomes slightly pink. As cubs mature and maternal grooming decreases, the hair will whiten again. Adult pandas engage in very little grooming, most of which involves scratching and rubbing with paws, or against surfaces to relieve an itch.

October 1: Cub Is 12 Weeks Old

The cub is 12 weeks old today. He is growing stronger every day and continues making attempts to stand up.

Thanks to everyone who voted for the cub's name. Voting ended last night at midnight. The winning name will be announced on October 17, when the cub is 100 days old.

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