It was the day everyone had been waiting for…Bai Yun and Yun Zi’s big move to the main public viewing area. How did the bears respond to the transition? The post A New World highlights the events of the morning and gives a nice account of how the bears reacted to the change. But I thought I’d take a moment to write a bit about how we manage the bears and the decision-making process involved in facilitating a shift like this.
Any time an event or situation arises concerning the pandas at the San Diego Zoo, the Zoo’s Panda Team gathers together around the big conference room table upstairs at the Giant Panda Research Station and discusses the issue at hand. You may recall from previous posts that the Panda Team consists of keepers, researchers, animal care staff, and veterinarians, and everyone’s input is essential. Most of us have worked with these animals (and each other) for many years, and so it typically doesn’t take very long for us to come to an agreement about how best to proceed.
When we’re shifting bears to a new exhibit, our primary concern is always the well-being of the animal. We must first ensure that the enclosure is a safe, suitable environment for the bears and then assess how well we think they’ll adjust to this new enclosure. Bai Yun is very familiar with this exhibit space and has raised most of her cubs here, so we expect her to take it in stride. But, is the cub ready? Yun Zi’s siblings all made the transition at about this same age, and developmentally he appears to be ready.
Another important factor we have to consider is where we will shift the other bears at the facility. If Bai Yun and Yun Zi are moving to the left exhibit (currently housing Zhen Zhen), where will we move Zhen? With the recent birth of Yun Zi, we now have five pandas here at the Research Station, more than we’ve ever had before! And along with having more bears comes minor challenges in terms of housing arrangements. We have a number of enclosures; however, it’s important that we consider the relationship and proximity of the bears to one another. For instance, will it cause Zhen stress/anxiety if she is housed adjacent to Bai Yun where she can see and smell her mother? Perhaps. So we do our best to avoid this type of potential stressor and don’t house Zhen Zhen next to Bai.
Then there are still other logistics to consider, such as research needs and meeting the interests of our guests. Because Su Lin participates in our daily hearing study sessions, she will remain in the main public viewing exhibit adjacent to Bai and Yun Zi. This exhibit is the most suitable for facilitating the hearing sessions. Gao Gao will remain in an enclosure behind the scenes for the time being until we have completed our hearing study sessions with Su Lin. Once complete, we will most likely begin a rotation with Su Lin, Zhen Zhen, and Gao Gao between the off-exhibit areas and the main public viewing exhibits. This will provide some variety for the bears as well as allow guests the opportunity to see different bears over time. We know that each panda has his/her own group of fans! So far, the bears are handling the changes very well, and we hope to complete the transition in the next few days.
So, this is just a little insight into the decision-making process that goes into a “seemingly” simple transition of a few bears into a new enclosure. There are a lot of factors to consider, and we always do our best to ensure the well-being of our bears.
Pamela Crowe is a research technician for the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.