The Cub's Ninth Week
September 9: Cub Tries to Walk
Mei Xiang remained calm throughout yesterday's cub examination. When the door to the den opened she returned to him cautiously, sniffing where we had been inside the den. When she bent down to sniff him she snorted loudly, as though she was surprised. She then picked him up and groomed him. You would think that we had rolled him in dirt! The cub gets the benefit of a good tongue washing after these exams. Giant pandas communicate with each other by placing scent marks throughout their overlapping home ranges or exhibit enclosures. These scent marks communicate individual information like sex and breeding status. We wonder what she knows about us based on our scents.
After yesterday's exam and vaccination, the cub was seen trying to stand and walk several times. We do not expect him to be able to take a few steps for two or three weeks. At one point he put a lot of effort into some forward movement by lunging forward from a very wobbly standing position. He barked loudly as he lost his balance, but Mei ignored him.
September 8: At Fifth Exam, Cub Weighs 7.5 Pounds
We did our fifth cub exam this morning. The cub received his first distemper vaccination. He did not even react to the injection, although right afterward he softly vocalized, sort of a high, soft, trill. He weighs 7.5 pounds, 1.3 pounds more than he weighed at his last exam, on August 30. His total length was 21 1/4 inches, and his body length (from the base of the skull to the head of the tail) was 12 inches, two inches longer than it was on August 30. He was calm throughout the 16-minute exam. He definitely prefers to lie flat on his belly. He did pushups and tried to crawl on the table, and he was able to lift himself on his hind legs, too. We can now feel the little buds of his teeth just under the gums—very cute! He has gotten a lot stronger since his last exam. See how he's grown.
Mei Xiang came out into the scale area this morning and weighed 227 pounds. She then went into one of the yards for 26 minutes. She wandered throughout the yard exploring and went into the grotto. Mei again allowed us to clean and place food in her indoor exhibit areas while she was away from the cub. She is definitely acting like the old Mei Xiang.
September 7: Mei Enjoys Normal Activities
Just as we finished removing old bamboo stalks from the den while Mei was in an indoor exhibit, the cub pulled himself onto his fore legs and barked, one loud sharp bark. We were amazed at the intensity of it. What a little bear! Mei was not alarmed. Perhaps this vocalization let us all know, if only momentarily, that he is in charge!
Mei got up this morning and came all the way through her enclosures to the patio. She weighed 227 pounds. Giant pandas' weights fluctuate daily, sometimes by as much as 10 pounds, depending on how much bamboo is consumed and how much feces has been produced. After getting weighed, she settled on the scale to eat some bamboo.
Tian, who was already outside, approached the mesh. They calmly and playfully interacted. This was such a nice interlude as the sunshine fell softly around them, on this lovely morning. Tian walked away in search of food after a few minutes. Mei was very comfortable in the patio area and eventually wandered back into the adjacent indoor exhibit to rest. We decided to call her back to the patio, so we could place bamboo in the exhibit where she was. She complied. During this time Tian was playing in the sycamore tree in yard 2. He eventually approached the mesh again and both pandas remained calm. We closed Tian in yard 1 to see if Mei wanted to go outside. She got up and returned to an indoor exhibit to rest. We proceeded to clean another indoor exhibit and remove bamboo from the den. Mei rested and slept.
This is the first time that we have closed Mei away from the cub while cleaning. Our cleaning activities took place in an enclosure between Mei and the cub. While we were cleaning, Mei also had the choice to go outside. She wandered out into yard 2 and sniffed around the entrance for two minutes before returning to the indoor exhibit to rest. When we gave her access to the cub, she did not return immediately. She explored another indoor exhibit to see what food had been provided, before returning to pick up and groom the cub. He is getting so big that it is a juggling act for her to get him into the right position.
We are very pleased that Mei occupied herself with such a full range of normal activities and that she remained very relaxed the entire time. She spent 114 minutes away from the cub and 50 minutes of that in the patio and yard areas.
September 6: Mei Is Comfortable With Den Cleaning
Mei Xiang and the cub continue to do fabulously. We continue to try to weigh and train Mei Xiang while she is away from the cub and increase our daily management activities. Mei is consistently carrying bamboo into the den, which requires our entering the den to remove old bamboo. She is comfortable with this and watches us calmly through the window in the den door.
September 5: Milk Sample Collected
Yesterday Mei Xiang went into her training cage and stayed there for about eight minutes. Keeper Brenda Morgan was able to collect a small (about 0.5 milliliter) sample of milk from Mei Xiang's right abdominal nipple. Zoo nutritionists will analyze the sample to determine its composition. Little is known about giant panda milk, so this is important information to gather. We hope to collect additional larger samples in the days and weeks ahead, when Mei Xiang permits it.
September 4: Overnight Watch Ends
Yesterday was a pretty routine day for Mei Xiang and her cub. Mei Xiang wasn't interested in getting weighed or going into her training cage. She spent the day eating, resting, and caring for her cub. The cub continues to do "wheelies" when he tries to crawl.
With everything going so well, we ended the 24-hour watch that began before the cub's birth. Now, volunteers will be watching mother and cub, and moving the cameras, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., each day. They are leaving the camera in a wide-angle view overnight so cam viewers can see both mother and cub. As the cub develops, there will be occasional 24-hour watches to document developmental milestones.
Tian Tian, like all of us, seems to be enjoying the cooler daytime temperatures of the last few days and is spending more time outside.
September 3: Cub Is Eight Weeks Old Today
At eight weeks old, the cub can now lift his head and chest but he can't quite get his tummy or bottom up off the ground yet. He is trying to crawl but is unable to make forward progress. Yesterday at about 5 p.m., Mei Xiang left the cub to get a bite to eat. While she was gone, the cub crawled in circles several times—like making little panda "angels" in the hay—then he collapsed and went to sleep.
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