As part of the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute's ongoing collaboration with our Chinese panda colleagues, panda keeper Becky Malinsky and I were able to spend 10 days visiting three giant panda bases earlier this spring. The first two we visited, Bifengxia and Dujiangyan, are managed by the China Conservation & Research Center for the Giant Panda. At the Bifengxia Base, our goal was to learn about how they prepare for breeding season and hopefully see some natural breeding.
Breeding season is managed a little differently there since they have many more pandas. We spent four days observing the process of moving males in and out of the breeding facility in order to find one that the female found suitable. On our final day, we observed a breeding attempt between Xiu Lan and Wu Gang. Unfortunately, the pandas did not breed naturally. We were also able to see our Chinese colleagues perform an artificial insemination.
After leaving Bifengxia, we went to the panda base in Dujiangyan. Dujiangyan is a research facility closed to the public, and it is quiet and very beautiful. Our first panda cub Tai Shan lives there. (Though, he's not a cub anymore.) We were able to visit with both Tai and his keeper Lui Yi. Tai Shan did not recognize our voices, but that was not unexpected. It has been 5 years since he moved. We were thrilled to see, that he seems to adore his keeper. And Pan Pan (who is Tai's 30 year-old grandfather) lives right next door to Tai!
We toured the rest of the center and saw more giant pandas and red pandas. Our next stop was the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding where we received a tour of the giant panda and red panda exhibits. Shortly after we got home Mei Xiang went into estrus and now we are just waiting to see if we'll have a new cub this summer!
Don't forget to follow @smithsonianzoo on Instagram! Check out behind-the-scenes giant panda photos and videos with the hashtags #PandaStory and #InstaScience.