#PandaStory: Pumpkins and Snack-O-Lanterns

This update was written by Laurie Thompson, assistant curator of giant pandas.

On Saturday, our giant panda family got into the Halloween spirit, thanks to the talented team in our Department of Nutrition Sciences. They whipped up some not-so-spooky “snack-o-lantern” treats for male Tian Tian and female Mei Xiang made of shredded carrots, applesauce and diluted apple juice pressed into a pumpkin using a Jack-O-Lantern-shaped mold. Keepers presented our 10-week-old cub with a pumpkin as well. Many of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s animals receive pumpkins as a fun enrichment item on Halloween because it gives them something new to smell, touch and investigate.

As we mentioned in our Oct. 26 update, Mei Xiang’s appetite has returned to normal. Both she and Tian Tian receive about 70 pounds of bamboo throughout the day and evening. When keepers arrive in the morning, they do a quick check of the yard to ensure all is well, then place fresh bamboo and puzzle feeders with leaf-eater biscuits inside in the pandas’ favorite spots. Once everything is in place and the keepers are safely inside, they open the doors and give Mei Xiang and Tian Tian access to their yards.

Mei Xiang usually chooses to spend some time in her yard. While she is outside, keepers clean her indoor enclosures and restock them with bamboo, leaf-eater biscuits and a portion of her fruit. They fill her enclosures with multiple species of bamboo. That way, she can choose which one she prefers to eat. Usually, she will eat both options. While she is inside, keepers restock the yard with food in case she wants to go back outside. Most mornings, Mei Xiang spends a few hours eating, then returns to the den to nurse her cub and rest.

Around lunchtime, Mei Xiang receives some extra food enrichment; her favorite treat is frozen sugar cane. In the afternoon, she will leave her cub in the den for an hour or so while she eats outside and explores her enclosures. Then, she comes back inside for an afternoon feeding before tending to her cub. Keepers provide Mei Xiang with 35 pounds of bamboo, leaf-eater biscuits, carrots, apples and cooked sweet potatoes overnight.

On Saturday night around 2 a.m., Mei Xiang brought her cub out of the den and carried him onto the lower section of the rockwork in their large enclosure next to the den. There is a flat area in the rockwork that is cozy and keeps the cub contained—our team refers to this space as “the playpen.” Mei Xiang sat here with her previous cubs, too, when they were around this cub’s age. They spent about an hour and 40 minutes in this spot, and after the cub nursed, they both fell asleep there.

This story appears in the Nov. 2 issue of the Giant Panda Bulletin. Watch Mei Xiang and her cub on the Giant Panda Cam, and read previous cub updates here. Planning a visit to the Zoo? Please note that Asia Trail—including giant panda viewing—is temporarily closed to visitors for the scheduled repaving of walkways.