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Summer/Fall 2009

December 4

Tai ShanTai Shan will be sent to the People’s Republic of China in early 2010, as stipulated in the agreement between the Zoo and the Chinese government. The exact date of his departure has not been determined due to the lengthy process of finalizing permits and preparing Tai Shan for the trip.

Under the agreement, giant panda cubs born at the National Zoo belong to China and are to be sent to the Wolong's Bifengxia Base in Ya'an, Sichuan, sometime after the cub turns two. In April 2007, shortly before his second birthday, China granted the National Zoo a two-year extension for Tai Shan to remain in Washington, D.C.; that extension expired in July but the Zoo was provided a second extension to January 2010.

Tai Shan will be trained to enter and calmly remain in a specially designed crate for his flight to China. Logistics and details for his safe transport are being finalized. It is expected that Tai Shan will enter the breeding program in China, where he will contribute to species conservation.

Mei Xiang and Tian Tian also belong to China and are on a ten-year loan as part of a research, conservation and breeding program. This agreement expires in December 2010. National Zoo and Chinese officials will not begin negotiations about their future until spring 2010.

Since his public debut in December 2005, Tai Shan has delighted millions of visitors who have come to the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat at the Zoo to see him. He also has touched fans from around the world through the Zoo’s giant panda web cam, which has drawn millions of visitors annually since his birth.

“Tai Shan leaving Washington is terribly sad for the Zoo, the community, and his fans around the world,” said acting National Zoo Director Steve Monfort. “He has become so special to the staff and the public—and we have learned so much from him in just four short years. By providing a two-year extension, our Chinese partner, the China Wildlife Conservation Association, allowed us the chance to learn more about giant pandas by charting his growth and development. It’s hard to say goodbye, but we are so thankful for the many memories and huge opportunities Tai has provided to the National Zoo.”

The details for farewell activities aren't set yet, so please check back to find out them.

We have anticipated many questions on the minds of Tai's fans. Get your questions answered.

November 12

Summer is over and daylight saving time has started. After the initial shock of the keepers arriving an hour late, the pandas have adjusted to the new time.

November is the month that our pandas usually become more active again. They shed their summer lethargy and begin to increase their activity and appetite. From June to November, Tian Tian and Mei Xiang usually lose ten percent of their body weight, while Tai Shan loses 20 percent, leaving him looking long in the leg and lanky. Based on past physicals we know that he is in good health during this seasonal slump. This year, Tai has been given medication to prevent any irritation to his digestive system, which occurred during his down time last year. Tai is eating his produce and consuming more biscuits. Over the past month, he has also enjoyed chewing on mulberry branches, interacting with them for long periods of time.

Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, while housed together each morning, are still are choosing to nap rather than interact, this will change as the temperatures drop into their winter pattern. All the pandas will begin to dramatically increase their bamboo consumption. It is amazing once our pandas start to enter their winter pattern how quickly they gain weight again. It still is hard to believe that any animal—and especially a bear—could thrive on bamboo and actually gain weight from it.

September 15

Mei XiangIt has been a quiet summer around the David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat, except for the Elephant Trails construction next door. Unperturbed, the pandas spend their days resting in the grottos across from the work site. On the hotter days Tian Tian and Mei Xiang hardly have any energy to play. After eating in a pose of bookends side by side, they retreat to their respective favorite spots on or in grottos in opposite yards.

Last week Mei surprised us again by climbing high into the willow tree in her yard. This activity is more common for her during the spring breeding season, to avoid you-know-who! No one could find her in her usual places until we remembered to look up! We all chuckle as we recall the time when Mei disappeared on us shortly after her arrival at the Zoo, by climbing up the mesh on the patio to hang upside down like a bat, from the conduit on the ceiling.

In mid-August we hosted two curators and a veterinarian from the Adelaide Zoo in Australia, which is scheduled to receive giant pandas this year. Pandamania now has an opportunity to spread to a whole new part of the world! We wish them the very best.

Also, last month with the assistance of a very dedicated intern, we started a project to evaluate the effectiveness of our panda enrichment program. We will be evaluating existing activities as well as introducing new objects, or ways of presenting old ones. It is important to evaluate enrichment so that we keep it stimulating for the pandas and ensure that we are doing everything we can to make their day interesting.

Tian TianIt is always rewarding to see how an activity like switching yards stimulates our pandas. Pandas rely on their sense of smell to process their world and to learn about neighboring pandas. When we switch yards, the pandas will spend additional time investigating the marks of those that passed through before them. The pandas will also follow the scent trails of the keepers after food or enrichment has been placed. We also know that rotten wood is very appealing to them. They will scent anoint their bodies with it. Yard switches are considered a very effective form of enrichment as they elicit natural behaviors. We will learn through our study information about other ways to stimulate species-typical behaviors and the curiosity of our pandas.

July 9

Today, Tai Shan turned four years old! The Zoo's commissary staff made him a special frozen treat, a three-tiered “cake” made of water, bamboo, shredded beets, and beet juice. The icy masterpiece was topped with a “4,” constructed with bamboo. Thanks to everyone who came to the Zoo today to celebrate the big day, and to the hundreds of people from around the world who have sent him birthday wishes online.

July 1

Mei Xiang and Tian TianWe recently planted three cryptomeria trees at the back of yard two. These large evergreens were rescued from the demolition for Asia Trail and have found their permanent home in the panda exhibit. The trees help to block the view of the building from the front of the exhibit, helping to create a forest for our pandas. So far the pandas have not even noticed them. Maybe this is because Mei Xiang and Tian Tian have been reintroduced for the year!

Their relationship always seems to pick up where it left off, with both pandas sharing their bamboo. Next there is a play session. The duration depends on the temperature, and it usually ends when Mei chases Tian back into his yard. Then it's time to go to sleep! Tian seeks out his air-conditioned grotto and Mei seeks out her ledge, on the side of her grotto. One can imagine that a similar cycle may repeat itself in the wild, with some communal bamboo grazing followed by a range of interactions from play bouts to fights, before each panda departs for its favorite napping place. With more and more research taking place in the field over these past few years, we look forward to more details about panda natural history.

Tai Shan eating bambooA bullfrog has moved into yards three and four. We are hearing its loud, bass-level banjo strum in the middle of the day. Tai Shan interacted with it once at the moat edge, pawing at it and causing it to jump on his paw, which resulted in a similar leap upwards from Tai.

All the pandas have resumed their summer eating pattern. They have reduced their overall consumption of bamboo and are now eating leaves. They are more selective about which kind, as well as what part of the bamboo they will consume.

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