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Bei Bei Reaches New Heights

  • Mei and Bei Bei at the entrance to their enclosure
This panda update was written by keeper Nicole MacCorkle

As some of our panda cam viewers may have noticed, we've made some changes at the panda house recently. Each giant panda requires an individualized care plan. It's been a great learning experience for the Zoo's panda team to care for Bei Bei.

Mei Xiang gains more experience with each cub, and it was quite evident when she was comfortable taking Bei Bei out of the den. He started spending time outside of the den much earlier than his older siblings Bao Bao or Tai Shan.  Mei Xiang acclimated Bei Bei to the larger exhibit much earlier, which was effective as we see Bei Bei is very relaxed in the space. He tends to follow more closely and spend time with his mother. Watch Bei Bei's first trip outside!  

Mei Xiang is no longer spending much time in the den where she gave birth, which is normal for a female with a six month-old cub. In the wild she would spend the majority of her time foraging, and her cub would be tucked away in a tree (which is safer than on the ground in a den). Since Bei Bei has such a relaxed personality and is quickly perfecting his climbing skills, keepers are starting to close the door to the den.

Bei Bei is closely monitored on the panda cam when the den door is shut so that we have the option to open it on demand if necessary. The first time we closed the door he wandered over to it, but when he saw it was closed he decided to take a nap in the grotto (one of his favorite spots) instead. Since then he has not shown much interest in spending time in the den while the door is shut. The panda team will adjust his care as he continues to develop and grow stronger.

Bei Bei's climbing skills are right on par with where they should be for his age. Keep in mind that he has only gone out in the yard a couple of times so far. And his second time in the yard he successfully climbed a tree! Mei Xiang helped him navigate the descent, and one of our keepers managed to catch it on video.

It is normal and perfectly natural for panda cubs to climb trees and spend lots of time in them. They are very adept climbers! We've taken precautions to make sure Bei Bei does not get too high by putting collars on the trees. He is given the option to venture outside with Mei Xiang most mornings when the temperature is above 35 degrees and there is no precipitation. But he doesn't always choose to go outside with her. Cubs his age are accustomed to being apart from their mothers for periods of 12 hours or more. In fact, Mei Xiang seems to relish her "alone time" in the yard each afternoon.

As Bei Bei gets more mobile, we expect him to take some tumbles and falls. At 27 pounds and growing steadily, he is large and sturdy enough to withstand falls-even tumbles out of a tree or off the rockwork in his exhibit. We always monitor him after a fall to make sure he is not hurt, but he is very flexible and has a thick layer of course fur to cushion any falls. And if Mei Xiang is calm after a tumble or fall, we are, too.

How's Bao Bao?

Bao Bao is doing great, and has been enjoying frequent training sessions with her keepers. She did enjoy the snow a few weeks ago, but possibly not as much as her dad Tian Tian, the internet sensation! If we get another measureable snow this winter, we will be sure to get some footage of Bao Bao enjoying her snow days.

What's New with Tian Tian?

Tian Tian is exhibiting some rut behaviors. He is patrolling his yard, scent marking and investigating wherever Mei Xiang has been. Since Mei Xiang will not cycle this year because she is still nursing Bei Bei, we expect his rut behaviors to be less pronounced than years when Mei has gone into estrus. When Tian is in rut he exhibits more play behaviors and solicits attention from keepers. He's been enjoying frequent training sessions with his keepers, and he's even been feeling a little playful! Recently, one of our keepers caught him on video after a play session in the hose as they were cleaning. After playing in the hose, he decided to climb a tree and scent-anoint himself with a branch. 

Giant Panda Zoo Awards

Our pandas and our panda team were recently recognized in the Giant Panda Global Awards! Bei Bei, Bao Bao, animal keeper Marty Dearie and SCBI veterinarian Copper Aitken-Palmer all received awards. Bei Bei's naming by First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama and First Lady of the People's Republic of China Peng Liyuan was also recognized.

Don't forget to follow @smithsonianzoo on Instagram for more photos and videos!;