Reporter Journal / Chen Weihua

Debut, weaning and breeding: pandas get busy

(China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-03-27 09:56

Debut, weaning and breeding: pandas get busy

Giant panda Bao Bao was a star at the Smithsonian's National Zoo before she left for China on Feb 21. And it turns out that she is also a star back in China.

On Friday, a ceremony was held to mark her first public appearance at the Dujiangyan base of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Sichuan province, after she finished her monthlong quarantine upon returning to China.

The news was carried not only on China Central Television (CCTV), but also major US news outlets The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Several US diplomats and dozens of reporters and guests were on hand at the ceremony to greet Bao Bao, according to the Times.

Bao Bao explored her spacious new enclosure at the panda breeding base, which features both indoor and outdoor play areas, the AP reported.

Keepers have been helping her adapt to local bamboo and Chinese steamed bread made from corn, soybeans, rice and eggs. And because she does not understand commands in Chinese, she is being looked after for a time by an English-speaking keeper, according to AP.

CCTV reported that Bao Bao will join the breeding program two years later. Bao Bao was born at the National Zoo on Aug 23, 2013.

At the National Zoo, the sentimental mood surrounding Bao Bao's departure a month ago has been replaced by busy programs for its three residing giant pandas, Bao Bao's parents Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, and her younger brother Bei Bei.

Around 1 pm Sunday, Bei Bei was napping in a tiny bed mounted on the wall in the indoor pavilion. He turned around after a long while and continued to sleep.

The zoo announced on Thursday that Bei Bei has adjusted well to his new habitats and life on his own.

He seeks out his keepers for attention by vocalizing when they are nearby. He is learning how to get food out of the enrichment feeders filled with panda treats. He is not quite as skilled as Mei Xiang or Tian Tian at getting the treats yet, so keepers are giving him some less difficult options such as hanging feeders or PVC feeders with larger holes, according to the zoo.

On March 15, the zoo issued an FAQ for giant panda fans, who had observed the stressful weaning process of Bei Bei from his mother Mei Xiang.

That is no longer a concern, as the weaning process, however stressful in the first few days, turned out to be successful. Instead, the zoo is now keeping a close eye on the breeding opportunity for Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who have given birth to three surviving giant pandas, all through artificial insemination.

Several times, Tian Tian was looking through a window to peek at Mei Xiang and then walked away and came back and watched Mei Xiang again through the window.

The zoo said on Thursday that Tian Tian is ready for breeding season. "He is in full rut, which means that he frequently scents marks and can be very restless," the zoo said in a press release.

It described Mei Xiang as exhibiting pre-estrus behaviors such as water play, scent marking, scent anointing and restlessness.

She often responds to Tian Tian's calls with a moan vocalization, which indicates she is not interested in him just yet. As she gets closer to estrus and becomes interested in Tian Tian, she will start to chirp at him, according to the zoo.

The zoo is also replacing the 24/7 panda cams in all of the yards with high-definition cams, so panda cam viewers can enjoy much improved quality of the pictures on the outdoor cams once they are all replaced.

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