The Cub's 32nd–35th Weeks
March 17: The Pandas' Trees
One of the dear old willow trees in yard 1 was trimmed on Tuesday. We trim the trees to eliminate any chance of a limb breaking off and injuring keepers or animals. We are also desperately trying to maintain the health of our remaining two mature willow trees. How beautiful to see the new lime-green leaves cascading down onto our pandas. The trees make the perfect spring scene for a photo memory of a panda munching on bamboo. Even the dead wood can be put to use. Pieces were cut up and left in the yards for enrichment. The favorite limb from which both Mei and Tian used to swing, upside down, is history.
Tai Shan used a small piece of a log given to him like a balance beam, walking along its length in perfect balance as the limb rocked under his weight. He straddled and clawed at the wood but did not appear to scent mark it like the adults do. Mei and Tian were totally unimpressed with the logs. Perhaps the wood is not quite rotten and fragrant enough to capture their attention.
March 14: Tai Weighs 38 Pounds
We managed to measure Tai Shan on Saturday, which was quite the challenge! It took four tries to get a length measurement, so his length is the average of all our attempts. Tai has mastered the maneuver of facing an opponent while pulling your head in like a turtle. This is often followed by tucking up in a ball so nobody can possibly stretch you out.
Tai weighs in at 38 pounds, and measures 44.4 inches, 6.9 inches longer than when he was last measured on January 11. The girth of his neck and chest has increased by about two inches each, and his abdominal girth still takes the prize by increasing by more than three inches. His tail, 4.7 inches long, has not grown much—indeed, panda cubs do grow into their tails. As a month-old cub, Tai's tail accounted for one-seventh of his total body length.
March 9: Tai Is Eight Months Old
Tai Shan now weighs 37 pounds. We hope to get some more measurements soon, but we have to wait for a time when he is sleepy and not up in the river birch tree. His naps in the tree can last as long as six hours. He is usually outside between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., and is generally very active before he goes out and after he comes inside. So measuring him when he is available, but sleepy, and when there are staff available is quite a challenge!
We are pretty sure we have proof that Tai has consumed bamboo—a small and very green stool, which we believe was produced by Tai. We still do not find feces from him on a regular basis. We are waiting for the definitive results of the screening, which will be done in the pathology laboratory. We analyze fecal samples from our adult pandas every month as part of our preventative medical program. Our pandas are also wormed monthly under this program. Tai Shan started receiving monthly doses in December. He takes them right from a syringe like a champ! For the adults, we use a more indirect method, putting their doses in pieces of cooked sweet potato.
March 7: Tai's Latest Trick
Tai Shan has a new trick. He climbs up the mesh barrier between the keeper area and the yard to hang out and try to get ahold of any conduit or metal he can reach from this position. The first time he climbed the mesh, he let go and fell about six feet to the walkway. Undeterred, Tai shook himself off and went right back up again. This time he slid down with his claws dragging the mesh to slow his descent to the ground. The third time he went up only half the distance. Lessons learned, he now climbs all the way up and down the mesh regularly.
Tai and his keepers are pretty sure he will be able to get up another tree soon. We will need to pick some strategic trees that will allow him to climb while staying in view. The trees will be clothed in leaves soon, and that will add to the challenge of keeping Tai visible for his audience. We may also add some more vertical perching to his enclosures. We all chuckle when we recall the time we could not find Mei Xiang, shortly after her arrival at the Zoo. Just when we were getting worried, we remembered to look up. There was little Miss Mei, hanging like a bat from a pipe in the ceiling, perfectly comfortable upside down, from her newly discovered perch.
February 28: Scent-marking Cub
As Tai Shan approaches the eight-month-old mark, we got to thinking about how advanced he is for his age. He quietly set another record last month when he scent marked for the first time on January 25. This is the earliest report of this behavior that we have found and further proof of our especially amazing and precocious panda cub. Tai scent marked on the concrete apron adjacent to the building next to a drain. Scent marking is used by pandas to communicate information about their identity, seasonal availability, and location. It is a bit amusing to wonder what interesting odor prompted Tai to leave his mark by this connection to a city sewer line, but perhaps the location was just a coincidence. He has been observed a second time scent marking on a pipe that runs up the back wall of the building. The building and the concrete apron, as well as the doorways between enclosures, seem to function as social communal areas where our adult pandas scent mark, and during the breeding season meet to mate. In the wild, pandas live in overlapping home ranges of three to five square miles where they may leave their marks or engage in a more direct interaction.
On another note, Tai Shan has been treating us to some very long and busy play bouts lately. We all just cannot get enough of his prancing and bouncing, especially when viewed from the rear.
February 21: All the World's a Jungle Gym
What a busy boy Tai Shan has been over the past few days. On Friday, he figured out how to get up the forked saw-toothed oak tree at the front of the yard. He was very pleased with himself, as it was a very windy day and the tree was just a-swaying in the breeze. It was also fun to look down on the keepers standing at the bottom of the tree looking up at him. He was coaxed out of the tree and taken inside so that an additional tree guard could be put in place. For security all of our pandas are locked indoors at night. We have restricted Tai's climbing height for now to ensure he can get back down at the end of the day or can be retrieved by a keeper.
The next day he headed out on a mission right back to the tree, and launched himself upwards into a purposeful climb, which was interrupted by the new metal tree guard. He was sure he could solve the problem on Sunday morning before he finally gave up. Coaxing Tai Shan out of the short tree in the evening to come inside is becoming quite a challenge. He is able to climb all over the small, mangled river birch and the deadfall in his yard as well as the rock work indoors. One day he walked along the window ledge inside, just to show us what a skilled climber he is.
In the wild, panda cubs Tai's age park themselves in trees for hours, where their mothers will leave them to go feed on bamboo for hours. As the cubs mature, they may be left for one or two days. Before we understood this behavior, young pandas were considered abandoned by their mothers and were rescued by well-intentioned villagers who happened upon them. Now, any pandas removed from the wild after 1996 are not granted entry to the United States, under our endangered species permit policy for giant pandas.
Tai Shan also climbed the mesh howdy window in the wooden gate between the yards to look at Tian Tian. Tai was fascinated and pawed at his father through the double mesh. Tian took a deep sniff but otherwise just looked him over. Now that they seem to have noticed each other it will be fascinating to see what happens next.
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