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Giant panda Update May 22, 2014

We've received many questions from our many curious panda fans! In this panda update, keeper Nicole MacCorkle answers questions we have received.

What is in the paper bags that you give the pandas?

Keepers put enrichment items in brown paper bags for the pandas. The bears rip open the bags and find treats inside. We try to vary the pandas' enrichment as much as possible, so the contents of the bag are different each day. Sometimes a bag may contain a fruitsicle; other days it may have leaf eater biscuits or other diet items.

Where is Bao Bao's pink Jolly Ball?

Bao Bao still has a pink Jolly Ball. This jolly ball is actually her second, since Mei Xiang punctured her first ball. For that reason, Bao Bao can only play with it when she is separated from Mei Xiang. We don't want either of them to ingest any of the plastic. The other plastic toys that you see in the panda enclosures are made of a sturdier plastic, and can be left in with the bears at all times.

Why does Mei Xiang steal Bao Bao's treats, bamboo shoots, etc?

Although Mei Xiang is an excellent mother, she does enjoy her food! Mei Xiang doesn't usually share her favorite food items, even with her own cubs, much like other giant panda mothers. Mei's priority is to get her own nourishment so she can produce milk for Bao Bao. Bao Bao is still getting most of her nutrition from Mei's milk at this point, although she is regularly eating solids as well. We give both Mei Xiang and Bao Bao treats, but since Mei usually finishes hers first, she often gets to finish whatever Bao Bao hasn't consumed, but that will change as Bao Bao grows.

Can Bao Bao get herself down from a ledge, etc? Can she fall? How do you get her down?

Giant panda cubs are excellent climbers. They are very muscular, and have extremely strong grips that help them rest in trees or other high places. It is possible for them to fall, but they are built to withstand most falls. In the wild, it would be common for a panda cub to spend the majority of the day in a tree, while its mother foraged for bamboo nearby. The tree provides a safe hiding spot for a potentially vulnerable cub.

Bao Bao, like other panda cubs, spends many hours in her tree each day. She doesn't get stuck, but does sometimes remain in the trees longer than Mei Xiang and her keepers would like. Most days, she goes outside by 8 a.m., explores for a bit, and then finds a comfy perch high in a tree where she remains until she decides to come down.

We are focusing on training Bao Bao to shift like the adults, and Mei Xiang is an important part of that process. Mother pandas make a contact call (which is referred to as a bleat) to their cubs, so we encourage Mei Xiang to bleat to Bao Bao (essentially calling her down out of the tree). So far, we are having mixed success. Mei's bleats, however, are more effective than keepers calling Bao Bao at the end of the day.

For a longer update on training with Bao Bao, stay tuned! We'll have a full update on her progress soon.