Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



The Cub's Fifth Week

August 12: Panda Senses

Giant pandas have excellent senses of smell and hearing. They rely on both of these to navigate through their habitat, and to communicate with each other. Scent marking on tree stumps, rocks, and other surfaces helps to mark their three to five square mile home ranges. As pandas travel through overlapping home ranges and visit bamboo feeding zones, they leave behind these sticky secretions by rubbing their anal glands, found on the underside of the tail, on the surfaces. Scent marks communicate the identity of the animal that has recently passed by, its breeding status, and other information we will come to understand through further study.

Pandas are not very vocal animals, even though they emit a strange array of sounds which are primarily heard during the breeding season or at other times when pandas encounter each other. Pandas bark, squeal, chirp, bleat, honk, and grunt, to name a few sounds in their extraordinary vocal range.

Yesterday, the cub reacted for the first time to the sound of the door being operated. This may indicate that the ears are fully open and functioning now. The cub acted startled and then was very active, grunting off and on for about half an hour. Later, Mei Xiang reacted very strongly to the sound of a construction drill at 10:20 a.m. She was eating in exhibit number 3 and immediately stopped eating when the sound occurred. She listened a moment, and then hurried back to the den to look at the cub. Because it was an intermittent noise she returned to eat. When the noise occurred again, she returned to the cub and cradled it. The cub did not seem to notice this sound. Mei Xiang huffed and honked vigorously in alarm, but she quickly settled down when the noise stopped.

Working with the construction managers, we were able to identify the specific sound among all of the construction noise that alarmed her. This drill can no longer be used and the construction managers are looking for a new tool to get the job done.

Raising this panda is truly an exercise in cooperation and team work!

August 11: Adapting to Construction

Mei and cub restingMei Xiang left the cub four times in the past 24 hours: for 37 minutes at 10:36 a.m., 8 minutes at 6:28 p.m., 42 minutes at 10:23 p.m., and 13 minutes at 4:41 a.m. She ate both bamboo and biscuits. She also dragged bamboo into the den during the 6:28 p.m. trip, and snacked on it later while holding the cub for a total of ten minutes. She drank water twice. Because she consumed all of her biscuits, today we are increasing the amount we offer her. Almost all of the time Mei Xiang is away from the cub, she is feeding or tending to other personal needs, and then she immediately returns to the cub.

Over the past two weeks, we have been slowly increasing Mei Xiang and her cub's exposure to construction and construction noise near the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat. The new mother and her cub seem unaffected by the construction activities, just as Mei Xiang and Tian Tian didn't appear to be bothered by the construction activities in the past. The construction will result in a greatly expanded habitat for our giant pandas.

August 10: Mei Is Eating Regularly

The cub during his exam on August 8.
Mei Xiang is consistently leaving the cub to eat bamboo and leaf-eater biscuits and drink water for 20 to 30 minutes twice a day. She has been consuming 8.8 ounces of biscuit, so we are increasing this to 10.6 ounces today. We are offering her a little more than 13 pounds of bamboo daily, and she consumes 3.7-4.6 pounds of mostly leaves.

The cub is now large enough to be her personal pillow upon which to rest her chin, an arm, or even her head. We are often treated to a view of the cub's rear and tail as he attempts to squirm out from underneath Mei's weight. Mei and her watchers still jump when he squeals to communicate his discomfort.

August 9: Cub Gets Second Exam

cub in gloved hands

We conducted the cub's second exam at 5:03 p.m. yesterday. Mei had been eating in the indoor exhibit for about half an hour when we went into the hallway to talk to her and closed and opened the door to gauge her reaction. Mei listened but continued to eat, so we decided to retrieve the cub for an exam. During the ten-minute exam, we reassured ourselves that the cub still looks like a boy, and we weighed him and took measurements. The cub now weighs 2.6 pounds (1.178 kg), and his heart and lungs sound healthy. His total body length (from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail) is 14 1/4 inches, and he is ten inches around the chest. His tail is two inches long.

The cub was quiet during most of the exam, especially when he was in the box or was being held horizontally. He made sucking noises like he wanted to nurse. Mei was calm until the cub squealed, at which point she stopped eating and went immediately to the door to look in. The cub squealed a few more times during the exam, causing Mei to become agitated and run around the enclosure. She defecated and also vocalized, producing sharp high-pitched barks. After was reunited with her cub and had the cub in her arms, Mei settled down quickly.

August 8: Mei Eats Leaf-Eater Biscuits

Last night, Mei Xiang ate her first leaf-eater biscuits—a little more than eight ounces—since before the cub's birth.

We think that if you watch the panda monitor closely and often, you can actually see the cub growing. A consistent phenomenon noted in the research room is that the most sedate people are turned into "oohing" and "ahhing" panda fans, who leave the room giddy and smiling.

Mei and cubAugust 7: What to Look for Next

The next milestone in the cub's development will be when he opens his eyes. Panda cubs open their eyes partway after 30 to 45 days and open them fully a week or two later. Find out how fast cubs grow and when they take their first steps.
Read a timeline of cub development.

August 6: Four Weeks Old

There has been quite a lot of progress in the past month as we've seen the cub grow from a hairless new born to tiny panda, taking on the distinctive black and white markings. Though still helpless, the cub's developing motor skills have been observed by keepers and FONZ volunteers, as he has started to lift and bob his head and right himself from a side position.

Keepers have noticed that Mei is becoming more attentive and interested to her surroundings. She has started to take notice of the keepers as they go about their work, and her trips to relieve herself and feed are growing more frequent and longer in duration.

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