Giant pandas are black and white bears that live in temperate-zone bamboo forests in central China. Among the best recognized—but rarest—animals in the world, they have come to symbolize endangered species and conservation efforts. As few as 1,600 giant pandas survive in the mountain forests of central China. More than 300 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world; most of these pandas are in China.
Giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are at the National Zoo under a Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement, signed in January 2011, between the Zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association. This extends the Zoo’s giant panda program through 2015. Mei and Tian are the focus of an ambitious research, conservation, and breeding program designed to preserve this endangered species.
Giant panda cub Bao Bao is now on exhibit!
Visitors will be allowed into the panda house on a first-come-first-served basis.
Due to the expected number of visitors to see Bao Bao, Asia Trail will be open to one-way traffic only. Visitors will enter Asia Trail at the sloth bear exhibit, near the Connecticut Avenue pedestrian entrance. Those visiting Bao Bao will be asked to line up outside the giant panda house in front of the panda yards. For the safety of our guests, animals, and staff, visitors will be allowed into the panda house in small groups to avoid overcrowding.
Visitors will enter the panda house from the west entrance, by the red panda exhibit, and exit the east entrance. After leaving the panda house, visitors will exit Asia Trail near Panda Plaza.
Although the panda house will be open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Mei Xiang and Bao Bao may not always be visible during that time. They will have access to the den where Bao Bao has spent much of the past few months and may choose to spend time in there instead of on exhibit. Due to bear behavior, we can't guarantee that all visitors will see Bao Bao. She is still young and sleeps a lot.
One of the keys to raising a healthy giant panda cub is mother’s milk. Since her birth on August 23, Bao Bao has grown from 4.8 ounces to just over 20 pounds. She’s packed on the pounds almost exclusively by nursing from Mei Xiang; she's only recently started to eat sweet potato and maybe a little bamboo. Zoo scientists can learn much from panda milk, and with help from keepers they are banking small samples from Mei Xiang. In this update giant panda keeper, Juan Rodriguez, explains how keepers collect milk samples from Mei Xiang.
With the birth of Bao Bao, Mei Xiang has been producing a lot of milk, so we developed a procedure for collecting the extra milk. This would allow us to not only study the nutrients in giant panda milk, but to have some milk stored in case future cubs were to need supplemental feedings. We knew collecting milk would be a complicated process, but we were fortunate enough to be able to see how our colleagues around the world do it.
Our trip to China in August 2013 allowed me and one of my fellow panda keepers to see firsthand how our Chinese colleagues collect milk from their lactating females. We also have the advantage of experience at the Zoo. Our keeper Nicole MacCorkle and biologist Laurie Thompson, were here for the birth of our last surviving cub in 2005.
Before we could collect milk from Mei Xiang, we needed a place to do it. So, we made a milking station. Initially, the concept for the milking station was developed by giant panda caretaker Marty Dearie. He designed an area along the bars of Mei Xiang’s den where a metal lip juts out approximately 4 inches. Just enough for her to comfortably place her elbows on the lip. The bars also give us the added security of protecting our hands and arms during the milking session.
The first step in the milking process is to get Mei to walk over to the milking station. Once at the station the animal keeper signals her to stand up on her hind legs and place her front paws up as high as she can. Then a second keeper is begins collecting milk from her.
So far we have collected milk from her three times and have accumulated approximately 3 to 5 mililiters.