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Giant Panda Update Dec. 1, 2015: News on the Whole Family

  • Bei Bei face down on a blue table cloth
This panda update was written by keeper Nicole MacCorkle and biologist Laurie Thompson

During a routine exam on Monday November 30, Bei Bei weighed 15 pounds (6.89 kg)! He's getting more difficult to weigh now that he is trying to climb out of the weighing tub! In stark comparison, his older sister Bao Bao weighs almost 150 pounds (68 kg). At his exam on November 19, we saw that Bei Bei has one tooth (lower left canine) that has erupted through the gum line. He measures 67 centimeters long (26 in) and 51 centimeters (20 in) around his belly.

When Bei Bei isn't sleeping or nursing, he is practicing walking. He has been working very hard to conquer the slippery floor and takes a few steps here and there when he's trying to get somewhere (like to his mom). He is able to move himself around some using his front paws, but still isn't able to get all four paws under himself at once for more than a step or two on the den floor. On the rockwork and the exam table, however, he has an easier time taking steps. In the last week, keepers have noticed that Bei Bei will often try to move in their direction when they call his name. They are especially excited about that development and it is a positive sign for beginning his training in the coming months! 

Bei Bei continues to develop normally, and at his own pace.  Our volunteer behavior watchers are focusing on Bei Bei and recording periods of nursing, vocalizations, whether or not Mei Xiang is grooming Bei Bei, and the distance between Mei and Bei Bei during the sample period. The behavior watchers also note if Mei Xiang eats or drinks during the observation and any play behavior between the pandas. Some web cam viewers have been lucky enough to see Mei Xiang and Bei Bei playing. Giant pandas play rough so it looks like she gives him little nips here and there. When he gets bigger, he will nip back!

Mei Xiang's primary focus at the present time is Bei Bei, and that is a full time job! Giant pandas in general are not extremely social outside of breeding. Occasionally, our pandas look to see what the other ones are up to, but that is usually after they have heard a vocalization. Tian Tian probably looks to see what's going on next door more often than the females do. In the wild, Mei Xiang would definitely not want other pandas (particularly males) near her den site or more importantly, her cub, so it makes sense that she's not engaging with Tian Tian much through the howdy windows. 

Bao Bao continues to be a playful adolescent, and really seems to be enjoying the cooler weather. She is spending even more time outside, and the best time for visitors to see her is from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. She can usually be seen on the panda cam after 10 p.m. 

Recently, visitors have asked us what the pads on giant pandas' feet feel like.  Bei Bei's, and to a lesser extent, Bao Bao's, paw pads are still softer than the adults'. The younger pandas' paw pads feel a lot more like a domestic cat or dog's paw pads, whereas the adults' feel thicker and even a bit callused.

As part of their daily care, the pandas get many types of enrichment, so Thanksgiving is just another day for them in that regard. However, over the holiday, the panda keepers were feeling festive. Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Bao Bao each got a nice treat of a large fruitsicle ring wrapped in paper in the morning, and fresh applesauce in the afternoon.

The David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat has been closed to the public since Aug. 20 to provide quiet, and will remain closed until Bei Bei's public debut on January 16. Prior to the debut, you can see Bei Bei on the panda cam, sponsored by the Ford Motor Company Fund. 

Don't forget to  follow @smithsonianzoo on Instagram for more photos and videos with the hashtag #PandaStory!