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The Cub's 20th Week

November 25: Panda Weaning

Tai Shan will be weaned naturally over the next year. We know very little about this process with wild pandas. We do know from one study that cubs may stay with their mothers for up to two years. Cubs have been with adult males at this age. It is important for young pandas to have social contact with adults. We still are learning about the best ways to raise young pandas, particularly males, to ensure success with natural mating behavior.

November 24: Tai and Solid Foods

Tai continues to mouth and handle bamboo regularly. He takes a break to suck and chew on his paws, then it is back to the bamboo pieces again. So far no chewing and swallowing has occurred, however he is having fun faking it. The leaf-eater biscuit and produce that Mei Xiang eats daily will not be offered to him until he has consumed a significant amount of bamboo, over several weeks. Mei Xiang does not share food, so he will need to be offered these items when he is alone.

November 23: Tai Is Assertive

This morning, Tai ran after the keepers as they were working. He climbed up on one of their legs and nipped at their pant legs. Here comes trouble! As Tai gets larger and more interested in us, we will have to be careful of his teeth and claws and change the way we work with him. He was very active and ultimately crash landed into a sound sleep, in the empty pool in exhibit 3. Overall he was a very assertive little cub this morning. When Mei returned, he bobbed his head and lunged at her to bite at her face. She approached him more carefully than usual, as though she were pondering this new aspect of his personality.

November 22: Tai's Bamboo Practice

Tai Shan continues trying to eat bamboo. His is rehearsing all the steps that are part of the ritual of consuming this tough, fibrous grass. He puts his mouth around the leaves and pulls them through, in one side and right out the other side. He grabs the stems between his pseudo thumb and claws. He also puts the stems and stalks in his mouth and bites down. He chews on all parts and then on nothing. It seems that we are watching genetically programmed behaviors now getting expressed. Ever since his eyes opened, Mei Xiang has been dining out. On the few occasions that she eats near him, Tai is occupied with his feet or asleep. However, we cannot completely rule out observational learning.

November 21: At 12th Exam, Cub Weighs 19.2 Pounds

Tai Shan in the exhibitAt his 12th exam today, Tai Shan was a very good panda cub. Of course he is still good even when he is squirmy! It was easier to examine him this time. He received his rabies shot in silence. He seemed to be interested in us, looking at the table cloth, the people, the tape measure, and other items. He is sooo big! He weighs 19.2 pounds, two pounds more than he weighed at his last exam 11 days ago, and at 31.2 inches long, he is 2.6 inches longer than was on November 10. His outer incisors have erupted more than his inner ones, but are still just above the gum line. And, did someone sneak in and blow dry his hair?!

November 20: A Climbing Fiend

Tai Shan was a climbing fiend yesterday and this morning. Around 2:30 yesterday, he ventured up on the rocks and spent more than half an hour exploring and chewing on an old stump. You can see the strength in his fore legs now, as he pulls his weight up the rocks with his hind legs scrambling behind him. When he decides to come down, he carefully stretches his fore legs over the edge with claws extended, and commences a slide, which ends in a tumble onto his head. Mei Xiang checked on him regularly during this adventure, but only intervened when he was about 18 inches off the floor. At this point, she swatted him back onto level ground. Undaunted, he started the process all over again.

This morning Mei was so patient as he climbed onto her head to play. With one paw on her eye and his mouth around her left ear, he began to tug and wrestle with her, forcibly shaking his head side to side. When the ear got boring, he would turn his attention to her cheek. Mei reached up once or twice with her paw but otherwise continued to rest through the episode. Mei's body is also is a great sliding board. . . woo hoo!

November 19: Mei Xiang as Jungle Gym?

This morning, the 19-week old Tai Shan has been very active. He's climbing up and down the ledge in the den, and using his mom as a jungle gym. He's been climbing on her while she tries to sleep, then sliding off. While on top of her, he's also been wrestling with and chewing on her shoulder. Tai Shan continues to explore and mouth bamboo, actively pulling pieces to his mouth, but he doesn't seem yet to know what more to do with it.

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