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The Cub's 21st Week

December 1: More Fun on the Scale

We had planned to do a cub exam this morning, but Mei Xiang had other plans. She intended to spend the morning resting in her enclosures with Tai Shan. She took care of all her maternal duties and tolerated all his play bites and swats. She rocked her body back and forth, with him in her clutches, then they play bit each other. Fond of the patio area, Tai Shan climbed on the scale like a big panda and weighed in at 22 pounds.This larger scale is not as accurate at smaller increments, so we will have to verify this weight. Tai really likes to climb on and off the scale, push against it, and then fall asleep on its platform or between the scale and the mesh sides of the patio.

This area provides a nice transition zone between the indoor and outdoor enclosures. The indoor enclosures are currently maintained at 60 degrees. The patio provides a sheltered outdoor area just adjacent to the indoor enclosures. Mei Xiang has been keeping close to Tai lately. Perhaps his newfound independence and activities require more supervision. We will wait, watch, and juggle the cleaning and other care duties around her needs.

November 30: Tai's Hair

Tai Shan in late NovemberWe are now handling Tai Shan without gloves and gowns. He has received all his vaccinations and is very healthy. Tai's hair is very coarse and dry, like the worst case of split ends. However, the hair is mostly one length—about four inches—and there is no undercoat. Minerals from Mei Xiang's saliva, especially iron compounds, leave Tai's hair with a pink tint. Despite his protests, she still manages to lick him!

November 29: Tai Shan's Media Debut

Tai Shan made his big media debut this morning. He was in high gear for about two hours, during visits by more than 50 media outlets and more than 100 reporters from as far away as China, Japan, and Russia. He showed off his new climbing skills and defied gravity over and over again as he walked along the edges of the rock ledges. Having discovered the trickle of water that runs off of the rocks into the empty pool, Tai let the water trickle over his head and licked the droplets off his face. As if on cue, when the media group's time was up, he wandered into his den, only to return to the exhibit for the next group. A confident and assertive bear cub, when Tai is finished with our activities he protests by bobbing his head at us and lunging forward. If he barks or squeals, his solo time is over, for Mei Xiang is soon at the door ready to check in.

November 28: Fun With the Scale

Tai has been enjoying the scale used to weigh the adult pandas. He pushes it, plays on it, climbs on it, and explores the area around it. While he was on the scale, we saw that his weight has climbed up to 21 pounds—an increase of nearly two pounds in a week! See how the cub has grown.

November 27: Tai Shan's Future

Tai Shan will return to China when he is two years old. All cubs born in the U.S. must return in this time frame, according to our formal loan agreements. While the thought of his leaving distresses us, we must remember that Tai Shan is part of an conservation breeding program. Our goal is to have him contribute to establishing a healthy and genetically diverse population of zoo pandas. His offspring may one day be returned to the wild!

The expansion of the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat, currently under construction as part of the Asia Trail project, will permit us to house more than two pandas in the future. The breeding center model, in which multiple animals live in one place, has proven to be the best arrangement for breeding pandas in China. Males and females have choices of partners, and males do not miss a breeding season when females are with cubs. We also still have a lot to learn about panda behavior and the role of competition and mate selection in successful natural mating. Perhaps there will be more than two pandas in the Zoo's future!

November 26: Tai Shan and Tian Tian

As Tai Shan matures, he will gradually nurse less frequently and spend less time near his mother. Actually, he spends a significant amount of time on his own already! Tai Shan will be able to see Tian Tian, his father, through mesh barriers when he goes outdoors, but we have no plans to introduce them into the same enclosure. Mei Xiang has not given us any indication so far that she wishes to visit with Tian Tian.

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