The Cub's Third Week
July 29: Mei Eats and Pulls More Bamboo Into Den
Mei Xiang left the cub twice last night from 6:11 to 6:23 p.m. and again from 7:50 to 7:57 p.m. During these times she ate bamboo, got a drink of water, and sniffed the leaf-eater biscuits. She also explored the indoor exhibit, sniffing intently. When she returned to the cub, she pulled more bamboo into den. During her second outing, she produced her first feces since before the cub's birth.
Samples were collected for endocrinology and the animal health department. We collect the pandas' fecal samples and urine samples daily, or when available, to correlate hormone levels between the two types of samples. Once baseline hormonal levels are established and understood, they become a sort of measuring stick for evaluating samples from wild pandas. It is almost impossible to collect quality urine samples in the wild, however feces are frequently found, especially around bamboo feeding sites. Our Zoo data will assist us in evaluating and understanding hormone levels in wild pandas. Fecal samples are also evaluated monthly by the animal health department for any parasites or other abnormalities. Regular fecal analysis is an important part of our health management program.
July 28: Mei Eats for a Few Minutes
Yesterday, Mei Xiang left the cub at 3:39 p.m. to feed on bamboo in the adjacent indoor exhibit. After eating for four minutes, she stopped to pull bamboo into the den and retrieve the cub. She ate leaves for another two minutes while holding the cub. She was observed several times between 4:39 and 5:25 p.m. eating bamboo leaves while holding the cub.
A few hours later, Mei left the cub to get a drink of water, urinate, and eat, just outside the den door. She was away from the cub for ten minutes. We locked Mei and her cub in the den from midnight to 6 a.m. as part of the process of increasing our involvement with Mei and establishing a predictable routine.
We are all being treated to more sightings of the cub as it gets bigger every day.
July 27: Mei Drinks Again
Mei Xiang was asleep and snoring last night when she suddenly rolled over and got up. She went into the nearby indoor exhibit, sniffed the leaf-eater biscuits, and proceeded past them to get a drink of water. She returned to the den after two minutes and began to manipulate an old bamboo stalk when the cub squealed, requiring her immediate attention.
High-fiber leaf-eater biscuits are made primarily of soybean meal, corn gluten meal, and sugar beet pulp. They contain vitamins and minerals to form a nutritious and complete diet for leaf-eating primates, as well as many other zoo animals, including giant pandas. Giant pandas almost exclusively consume bamboo, which provides very little nutrition. The addition of the biscuits to their bamboo diet helps us to keep our pandas healthy.
The cub looks larger every day. It is frequently more visible resting on Mei's abdomen for several minutes at a time. We are now just beginning to see it nursing with its head in the correct position.
July 26: Mei Eats Some Bamboo Leaves
Mei left the cub for six minutes yesterday afternoon to have a drink of water and eat some bamboo leaves! This is her first bite to eat since July 7, two days before the cub's birth. She returned to the cub when it began to squeal. In the only wild study of female pandas and their cubs, two panda experts observed that panda mothers went as long as a month without eating or drinking.
Like other bears, pandas seem to go through a metabolic shift during the summer months, when their food consumption may decrease by 75 percent from their consumption in cooler months. This coincides with when pandas den and produce cubs, like other bear species. These metabolic changes in pandas have yet to be studied, although we are beginning to learn more about how pandas manage to thrive on a bamboo diet, which is low in nutrients.
For nearly an hour last night, Mei slept with the cub by her head in the nest. The cub was clearly visible most of the time. Its black shoulder markings pinch inward at the middle, like Tian's. Its little head is changing shape and looks more like a panda profile.
July 25: No Skim Milk on the Menu
Mei and her cub are doing great. The attentive panda mother constantly provides high-fat milk to her cub, who may grow to ten times its birth weight at five to six weeks of age. Panda milk is lower in fat than polar bear milk but about the same as black bear milk. The cub will begin eating bamboo leaves when it is five to six months old and will be weaned when it is eight to nine months old.
July 24: An Attentive Mom
The cub continues to grow. Except for a few grunts, the cub may be quiet for an hour or two, and then it will complain if Mei Xiang shifts positions, or when, we believe, it is ready to nurse. Imagine Mei Xiang's relief when she finally settles into a position that is comfortable for the cub. On a few occasions, the cub's vocalizations sounded like sharp little demanding barks!
Mei Xiang continues to place the cub in the nest and study it. She will also briefly lie beside it before picking it up. Says Lisa Stevens, assistant curator for giant pandas, "She is so attentive. One enduring image for me last night was the cub lying in the nest by Mei Xiang's head. Its tiny head was a whisper of her giant one. One of Mei's canines and her claws were visible in the embrace."
July 23: Mei Xiang's Cub Is Two Weeks Old Today
At two weeks of age, the cub looks much more robust and "solid," and appears to be growing well. The black markings on its ears, shoulders, and near the eyes are distinct, and those on its hind legs are becoming clearer.
Last evening, Mei Xiang briefly left her cub to take a drink of water between 6:25 and 6:30 p.m. This is only the fourth drink she's taken since the cub's birth. She isn't eating yet, but this is perfectly normal.
Thanks to everyone who sent birthday wishes to Mei Xiang, who turned seven years old yesterday.
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