The Cub's 22nd and 23rd Weeks
December 23: An Ounce of Prevention
Tai Shan had a quick examination today in his exhibit enclosure. We confirmed his weight of 25 pounds and gave him his first dose of preventive pyrental wormer. He will get a monthly dose, which will be adjusted according to his weight as he grows. The adults get monthly ivermectin wormer. When Tai Shan is older he will be switched to this wormer, which is not usually given to young animals. Pandas, like other bears are susceptible to round worms. Those of us who have worked with other zoo bears have the lasting memory of those mornings when we discovered spaghetti stools in the enclosures. Yuck! Nowadays, we have comprehensive preventative veterinary programs that involve providing screening and treatment before parasite populations are able to reach such levels. Often, pandas and other bears can carry a parasite load and yet test negative on their monthly fecal tests. This is why a good preventative program includes regular dosing with these dewormers.
Tai Shan had a great time playing with a ball inside his tub this morning. He was given the opportunity to go outside, but he declined and chose to do some rock climbing. In the middle of this walkabout, he seemed to collapse mid-step, along a particularly uncomfortable-looking rock ledge, into a sound sleep.
December 22: Tai Goes Outside!
Tai Shan made his first trip outside this morning at 7:15 a.m. for two hours. First, he played on the scale. He weighed 25 pounds. Mei Xiang left him playing there, as there was a pile of bamboo calling. Tai Shan headed out the door about ten minutes later and made a hard right, proceeding along the back wall of the building and over to the fence line. He investigated the fresh gravel patches as he walked along the fence line into the yard. He picked his feet up and placed them carefully onto the grass and ground as he walked.
It wasn't long before Mei Xiang discovered him along the fence. She remained very relaxed about this new development. However, she could not pull herself away from him to go back to eating for very long. Tai especially enjoyed the dead limbs and spent a lot of time hanging on as Mei tried to tug him off. He won just about all these tugging bouts. Tai also climbed up one of the trees until he reached the metal sleeve. He also went all the way to the bottom of the dry moat and back again. At one point he pulled himself up onto the viewing window to Tian's enclosure, but alas Tian was asleep, far away from the window. We do not have an outdoor schedule for Tai Shan yet. Immersed in the daily juggle of animal, exhibit, and guest management, we will sort it out over the next few weeks.
December 21: Tai's Big Non-Event
We opened the door from the exhibit to the yard yesterday afternoon to give Tai Shan his first opportunity to venture outdoors. The essential watchers and photographers had gathered only to observe Tai sleep through this important event in his life. Mei Xiang checked on him a couple of times but otherwise wandered and ate bamboo. We saw Tai turn over and yawn, which was...dare I say it again...very cute!
We saw Tai Shan take a drink of water from the small puddle at the top of the rocks, which is one of Mei's drinking holes. Tai also sniffed and licked some leftover pieces of ice from a fruitcicle. We continue to watch Tai maneuver bamboo like a little adult. He will chew and chew some more on the leaves, and just when we think it might be gone, out comes a shiny, wet, and very intact leaf.
December 19: Wild Child Panda
All we can say is that Tai Shan is simply a wild child. We watch him practice his climbing skills on Mei Xiang's back: He grabs a mouthful of her hair along with the skin, and pulls and chews relentlessly. Then he is off into all the exhibit enclosures, as well as his birth den, exploring and playing. He especially likes to climb on the covered Nelson waterer, a large automatic metal water bowl inside the den. If Mei drags him anywhere, once free, he goes back to what he was doing. We have seen Tai climb all the way up the mountain and then try to paw the mountain mural and continue his climb. He carefully peers over the edge at the top before picking his way down again. Tai enjoys all of his toys, but our shoelaces are the most captivating new discovery.
Tian Tian managed to get honey on himself from one of his enrichment activities. This event was followed by a roll in the dirt. What a dirty panda! Tian continues to restlessly wander his enclosures and scent mark. His body is preparing him for the spring breeding season, and Mei Xiang is unavailable this year. Between Tian Tian and Tai Shan, we have loads of material for a "Bad Panda" movie.
December 16: Cub Fun
Tai Shan has discovered the joy of playing in a rubber feed tub. We sometimes put another toy such as a burlap bag or a kong toy in the tub to further engage him. He spends a lot of time rolling and tumbling upside down, in and out of the tub. He also likes to wrestle with the burlap bag. Another source of entertainment is rolling around on the smooth surface of the platform inside the den. We have also observed him peeking under the door that leads outside. What an adventure the great outdoors will be for him.
December 14: At 13th Exam, Cub Weighs 23.3 Pounds
Yesterday, we gave our 22-week-old Tai Shan his 13th exam in the exhibit enclosure due to his activity level, and we'll continue to conduct exams here. Tai found this exam to be one big play opportunity. He seemed to have a lot of fun squirming through everything we wanted to do to him. He would not stay still on the scale. He weighs about 23.3 pounds. Well, definitely 23 pounds and not as much as 24. He is now 36.6 inches long, a whole yard stick! He was stretched out when we tried to measure him around the abdomen, trying to run away. We took a swab of his mouth, on the inside of his cheek, for further genetic studies.
Tai was more independent of the den area yesterday than before. He spent an hour and 15 minutes playing by himself in the exhibit area. He really enjoys the old wood stump up on the rocks. He is just about ready to go outside. Earlier, he fussed and called under the closed door, so Mei Xiang returned to him. However, once she returned, he would not follow her back inside from the patio. Instead he launched into another game of climbing on and off of the adult scale. He also squealed loudly when the cardboard box flipped over, requiring another visit from Mei. When it was time to go outside, Mei wanted him to accompany her. We have been busy cub-proofing the yard to make it safe for him, and it is nearly ready for him.
December 12: Tai Sees His Reflection
Tai Shan has noticed his reflection in the window. He quietly looks at himself and approaches the glass. We think from the angle that his reflection must disappear, as he then loses interest. When he is near the glass he does not notice the excitement he causes on the other side. Someone has dubbed his photographing visitors the "pandarazzi." The camera flashes do not bother him, and we have no evidence that they cause any eye problems, with either human or panda superstars.
December 9: Tai Is Five Months Old!
Tai Shan has been climbing up to the top of the rocks for the past two mornings. He very carefully picks his way down to the floor again all by himself. Sometimes if Mei Xiang discovers what he is up to, she will swat him down a level toward the floor. This does not seem to faze him at all. He continues to amble on to the next challenge.
It is so touching to see Mei Xiang interacting with Tai. It is as though the hard work is over and she is beginning to have fun with him. She rolls him under her chin and over her chest, to nibble on him like an ear of corn. She bites and licks him from end to end, and then will push and swat him around on the floor. Sometimes while they are lying near each other she reaches out a paw to pull him closer. If she tries to use him as a pillow, he usually manages to squirm away from under her weighty embrace, at least for a moment before she pulls him under again.
Yesterday was Tai's public debut, a big day for all of us, and he did not even notice! Mei Xiang and Tai Shan decided to take a nap for half of the viewing time. We so appreciate the understanding and patience our guests expressed over our pandas' ill-timed snooze.
December 8: They Came, They Saw, They Smiled
It's a cold day in Washington, but that didn't stop lots of people from coming to the Zoo to celebrate Tai Shan's debut. Before their viewing time started, Mei Xiang came in to look for Tai but couldn't find him for a while. When she finally discovered him behind a big pile of hay, she stayed with him in the den, where they slept until about noon. Then she went outside for fruitsicles and bamboo. We relocated Tai to the exhibit, where he played, climbed the rocks, and pleased the crowd. Earlier today he had climbed to the top of the rock "mountain". Mei pushed him down a ways, and he climbed down the rest of the way carefully and skillfully.
December 7: Close Encounters of the Snow Kind
When Tai Shan is awake, he is very busy. We have a tough time leaving him without him trying to follow. He will track us down, trying to hold on to and bite at our legs. In order to get out of the enclosure, we have to distract him. We have tried a box, leaves, a ball, and bamboo. These things do not distract him for very long. Some times we exit over the rocks to slow him down, because he can catch up to us on the floor. We don't run away from him so that he isn't encouraged to run us down.
Snow usually stimulates the pandas to play, but Mei Xiang and Tian Tian have been unimpressed with the recent two to three inches that accumulated in their yards. We carried a small pile of snow inside on a plastic trash-can lid yesterday and this morning for Tai Shan. He sniffed and licked at the pile until it made him sneeze. However, when Mei came back inside she found this presentation most evocative and launched into a solitary play session, dumping the lid and rolling in this tiny pile of snow, rearing up and falling over with the lid in her grasp. This mirrored a first observation of solitary play from Tai Shan. Tai also was rearing up repeatedly and falling over in a silly play session, as if he were demonstrating a newly learned cartwheel, minus the flip. We are looking forward to the day he discovers somersaults. We are also looking forward to tomorrow, when Tai makes his debut to the public!
December 5: Record-breaking Cuteness
The cute meter went completely off the scale yesterday! Two times! Tai Shan was given a small, hard, plastic ball, about ten inches in diameter. He played with it for the first time by grasping it between his legs and biting it. He then fell off of it, onto his back, as the ball shot out away from him. He then bounced himself back into the den! He looked like a big puff of popcorn as his rear hopped through the door. Later, when Mei Xiang returned, he followed her up onto the rocks and sat beside her "eating" bamboo. What a little big boy, sitting like a tiny mirror image of his mother, pretending to eat bamboo. Mei and Mini Mei!
December 4: Self-cleaning Pandas
Pandas are self cleaning. The staff never bathes them. When provided large spaces, pandas usually will not urinate and defecate in the areas where they rest. The tend to be "spot defecators," returning to the same areas to deposit feces and urine. They also like to rest high in trees or on rock ledges. It is not unusual to see them back up to the edge of the rocks and let loose. Pandas rub and scratch as though they are itchy, but never seem to have problems with ectoparasites such as fleas and ticks. These pesky invertebrates are very species specific. The kinds that occur in our region apparently do not find pandas very tasty.
Pandas scent anoint themselves on occasion with select objects, getting very dirty in the process. One of their favorite ways to get dirty involves pieces of rotten willow wood. Oh, how they will roll, as well as pick up and rub the pieces over their face and body. When they are quite dirty, they then give a good shake and the pieces go flying like water droplets off a wet dog. Speaking of water and wet dogs, pandas do love a good soaking with the hose on hot days. This usually marks the beginning of a wild play bout, very much like the running frenzy displayed by dogs after they are released from their baths.
December 3: Leaves Are Tai Shan's Favorite Toys
We've noticed this week that, as each day passes, Tai Shan is more interested in the activities of the keepers as well as the features of his enclosure. Leaves are most fascinating to him. He can chew on them, and they will stick to his face and paws. He can make them rustle and skid across the floor, and them catch them again. Yesterday, he was given a pile of leaves, a cardboard box, and a kong toy to play with. He interacted with everything. The cardboard box became scary when it turned over on top of him. Tai had to scamper back to the den to regain his composure. He chewed on a kong toy—a black, rubber, Great Dane-sized dog toy. Tai even licked at a piece of cooked sweet potato left behind from the stuffed kong that Mei Xiang had been given earlier. It is fun to watch each new day of discovery.
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