Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



The Cub's 24th and 25th Weeks

January 5: Smelled but not Seen

Many people have wondered if Tai Shan and Tian Tian have seen each other. They have recently had the opportunity to do so. When Tai goes outdside in the morning with Mei, they pass through the patio where the scale is located. Tian has been in his area nearby at the same time, however it does not appear that either male panda has noticed the other. Tian's eyes are usually glazed over with his endless quest for more food, and Tai's focus is on the next play project. Male pandas are not involved in the care of their cubs.

One day last week, Tian had been shifted into the scale area to be weighed. He scent marked the scale before departing. First Mei and then Tai sniffed the area before proceeding outdoors. While we all are very interested in their first glances and interactions, all of our pandas are completely unimpressed by their neighbors.

January 3: Tai's First Biscuit

Now a 27-pound bear, Tai Shan has been going outside daily and is a joy to watch. Last Thursday, he played with a leaf-eater biscuit that Mei Xiang had missed, a very unusual occurrence for Mei. Tai began to chew on it and ended up consuming the entire biscuit! We will not offer him more biscuits because we want his first solid food of a significant quantity to be bamboo. We still cannot confirm that he is eating bamboo. He chews and chews on the leaves like gum and then spits them out. Like all youngsters, he is enjoying mouthing and chewing lots of things, like bark, sticks, and the vegetation in the outdoor yards.

December 30: Breaking the Habit

Tai Shan must have read yesterday's update. This morning he walked straight out, taking the lead and leaving his mother behind on the patio. He walked down the middle of the yard to the fallen limb to start off his two-hour play session. When it was time to go to sleep, he returned to the same limb, rubbed his rear end against it for a good scratch, and then fell fast asleep. Tai draped himself over the branch just like his dad. Tian Tian likes to hang out on a branch at the front of his yard, adjacent to Tai and Mei's yard. We sometimes see Tian engage in a good rear-end rubbing before going to sleep. It is hard to believe branches can be so comfortable. However, we can all identify with the relief of a good scratch.

December 29: Creatures of Habit

Tai Shan has gone outside every day for the past three days. He usually goes out with Mei Xiang, although this morning he was too busy playing to follow her out until about ten minutes later. This was his first rainy day, but he did not seem to notice. Once he was brought inside he shook the water off his back and settled in for his mid-morning nap.

Each time Tai goes outside, he turns right and follows the wall to the fence line, turns left at the corner, and then proceeds along the fence line, until he is about mid-way down the yard. Tai then makes a left, and heads out to the fallen branch for a climb fest. Mei Xiang proceeds immediately to the pile of bamboo at the top of the grotto. She sniffs the keeper's trail along the way for any dropped leaf-eater biscuits. It is remarkable to see that Tai already has his own little habits surrounding his outdoor excursions. The adults are also very ritualistic in where they go, as well as what they do, outside. We tend to think of wild animals as free to roam wherever they want in the wild. The reality is that they are bound by their resources, familiar trails, energy-conserving routes, known food sources, and areas safe from competitive animals.

Each morning, Mei and Tai have eventually ended up playing together by a fallen log at the front of the yard. This is a new destination for Mei, who is drawn there by Tai's antics. Tai leaped from the log onto Mei's back to chew on the ruff of her neck, before sliding off and bounding onto the log again. Once his energy is spent he walks back to the fence line, where it all began, curls up, and falls into a deep sleep.

December 27: Tai and Tub, Yin and Yang

Tai Shan's new favorite place is the black feed tub. It is great place to play, especially when you add a soccer ball, a kong toy, or a piece of leafy bamboo to it. Tai has managed to drag the big plastic spool all by himself into the tub. The floppy sides of the tub are also fun to bounce on right side up or upside down. The tub is also a great place for a long nap. It provides a sense of comfort and security within the larger space of the exhibit enclosure. What a marvelous still life is created when Tai curls up in the tub with his ball. Depending on the curve of his body, we are reminded of the yin and yang symbol of life's balance and harmony.

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