Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



The Cub's 16th Week

October 28: Hooray for Fruitsicles
We are ever so thankful for the distraction power of fruitsicles. Yesterday, the plumbers had to make a third attempt to clear the drains in Mei Xiang's exhibit enclosures. Last week we had worked first with a plunger and then a small, quiet drain snake. However, a big snake was required to take care of the blockage cause by bamboo fragments. Mei Xiang did not like this bigger, noisy creature and ran away from it, hiding down in the dry moat at the front of her yard. Once a fruitsicle was tossed over and she sniffed it out, the world was OK again. She sat in a sunny spot and savored it. Tian slept through the commotion.

October 27: Panda Senses, Toys, and Treats

It is amazing to watch Tai Shan walk across the length of the exhibit enclosure and return to the den. He can navigate back to the den by using his sense of smell, in addition to visual cues. He seems to be most active during the relocations early in the day between 8:30 and 9 a.m., and then after a long nap, he may become active again in the late afternoon. Pandas rely primarily on scent cues to communicate with each other as well as to investigate their environment. Tai Shan is fascinated by a bracket in the floor just to the left of the den door. He stops to look at it almost every time. When he is a little older, we will begin to introduce some toys. All his panda toys must be rugged enough to withstand Mei's powerful jaws.

Tian Tian's favorite toy is a hard plastic gourd with holes drilled into it. The keepers put leaf-eater biscuits inside and he rolls it all over the place, to shake the biscuits out. Tian also likes when the keepers dribble a little honey into a milk crate for him to lick. He has to put it on his head to get those final sweet drops. Come to think of it, it may just be that Tian likes the biscuits and the honey, and is quite put out by the fact that we make him work to eat them! I guess Halloween is an everyday event around the panda house as there are always a lot of tricks along with the treats.

October 26: Tai Shan Sleeps the Days Away

Tai Shan still spends most of his time sleeping. His short bouts of walking in the morning seem to tire him out for the rest of the day. Once he is more active, it will be time to schedule a 24-hour weekend watch to see what he is up to overnight.

October 25: Tai Shan Returns to Den

Tai Shan was really motoring around this morning during the relocation. He returned on his own to the den twice. At one point, with his eyes on us, he walked straight toward us. His little claws are like sharp little hooks. When he is being moved, we now have to be more careful, especially if he is squirmy!

Mei Xiang continues to monitor his activity closely. She still has no idea of the extent of his mischief when she is away on her feeding forays.

October 24: Tai Shan Explores

During the relocation this morning, Tai Shan was on the move. He wandered several feet in the exhibit enclosure. What was most remarkable was that, in addition to walking, he was actually looking around! At last, a new world is unfolding before his eyes! The little explorer lifted his head, looked around, and went over to examine a metal bracket in the floor. He then returned to the den to further explore both sides of this area. It was very endearing to see his little, self-powered rear end disappear through the doorway.

October 23: Tai Shan Walking

This morning, Tai Shan was walking very well, moving all around his den. He hasn't left the den on his own yet, but it probably won't be long before he heads out.

October 22: Tai Shan Is 15 Weeks Old Today

We are still seeing the same interactions between Mei Xiang and Tai Shan. This morning, Tai Shan was moved to the exhibit enclosure while Mei Xiang was outside eating a fruitsicle. When she returned indoors, she moved him back to the den, washed him up, and settled in for a nap on the platform. Mei likes to sleep sprawled, with her head hanging over the edge of the platform. She had left Tai Shan on his back in the nest. After a few minutes of flailing, he flipped himself upright and was off, crawling around the front of the platform, where he bumped into Mei Xiang's head. After a few more bumps, Mei Xiang got up from the platform, took a hold of his neck, and returned him to his birth place.

Cubs are vulnerable to injury and predation at this stage. They are mobile enough to get into big trouble in the rugged, rocky, and steep mountain terrain of their natural world. Until the cub is walking and moving well enough to escape back to the den or up a tree, it is mom's job to diligently drag her cub back to the safety of the den. Just another example of Mei Xiang's exemplary maternal skills.

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