Wild CSI: Pandas!

A few weeks ago, the San Diego Zoo’s Conservation Education team kicked off their annual, week-long Wild CSI Summer Camp for San Diego middle school students. As I mentioned in my previous blog, Panda Lab for Students, I have been working with the conservation education group to help create a fun and exciting giant panda module that will teach the kids about conservation science and about the multidisciplinary approach we use to conduct our panda research here at the San Diego Zoo. Here’s what we did:

On day one of the camp, the group, consisting of 22 students, began with a tour of our state-of-the-art Beckman Center for Conservation Research, which included an overview of the various types of research we are currently conducting here at the Wild Animal Park, the Zoo and in field projects all over the world. Once back in the Conservation Education Laboratory, housed in the Beckman Center, the kids heard a brief lecture about giant pandas. They learned about the pandas’ current conservation status, the threats to their survival, and the research the Zoo is conducting to better understand this elusive species. Next they spent some time learning about operant conditioning, a process of behavior modification in which the likelihood of a specific behavior is increased or decreased through positive reinforcement.

At the San Diego Zoo, our panda keepers use operant conditioning to train the pandas to display a wide range of natural (no juggling pandas here) behaviors when requested. Some examples include training the panda to open its mouth on command so that the veterinarians can take a look at the teeth, or training the panda to lie down and remain still so veterinarians can conduct an ultrasound. Both of these types of procedures would typically require that the animal be medically sedated; however, through the use of operant conditioning training, it is no longer necessary to subject the animal to the inherent risks of anesthesia. The veterinarians can gather valuable information about the pandas’ dental health or reproductive condition in a safe, stress-free manner. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a clicker and some apple slices (oh, and a very talented keeper!).

The students in our summer camp got to participate in their own operant conditioning activity. They paired up in teams of two and, using a clicker and some candy as the reward, tried their hand at modifying their partner’s behavior. It was a fun, hands-on way for the kids to learn about behavior training and to understand the importance and effective role that it plays in a conservation-breeding program such as ours.

Wild CSI students record sounds from the African elephant herd at the Wild Animal Park.

On day two of our Wild CSI Summer Camp, the students learned about bioacoustics, the cross-disciplinary science that combines biology and acoustics. The Giant Panda Research Unit is currently conducting hearing studies with our giant pandas that utilize bioacoustics analysis to help better understand the pandas’ hearing sensitivities. (Read about it in the blog Su Lin: Hitting the High Notes). This is very important because vocalizations play such a vital role during panda breeding season. They live in a very dense forest habitat, and it’s imperative that they communicate in order to find one another during their short breeding season. The students got to listen to some recordings of giant panda vocalizations collected both here at the Zoo and in China and then had fun quizzing each other on their acoustic capabilities.

To test their own bioacoustics skills, the students headed out to the Wild Animal Park with their recording equipment to collect different animal sounds throughout the Park. As you can imagine, there were all kinds of amazing vocalizations and sounds to record: gibbons and lorikeets, African elephants and shoebill storks. Once back in the Education Lab, they listened and analyzed their recordings to get a feel for what it would be like to be a real bioacoustician!

Check back soon for Wild CSI: Pandas, Part 2

Pamela Crowe is a research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

51 Responses to Wild CSI: Pandas!

  1. How cool. Makes me wish I was in middle school again. Glad you are teaching the next generation so much.

  2. Cool… do you have a grownup version of this? :-)

  3. Thank you Pamela (I like you’re name) for the post! It was very intersting and it seems like the kids learned a lot but at the same time had fun! I am going into 6th grade and it would be so cool if I could go to that summer camp but I don’t live in San Diego. I want to visit the SDZ soon though because I had such a great time back in April, I believe. I hope I can go in at least during the next 3 years. Maybe one day when I am older I can move to SD. I hope there will be pandas then too, I hope the SDZ can have more pandas. But, the pandas are on a loan from China… Anyway, yesterday I wrote a birthday poem for Yun Zi and I will post it in a comment on August 5. I can’t believe he’s going to be 1 in just a week! And Zhennie and Su Su (that’s what I like to call Su Lin) and of course Ya Ya! I am so excited for August and all the panda birthdays and a little bit of September too. There has been 3 major panda birthdays already here in July. Well I have to go check Pandas Live On and Rita Petita’s photos on Flickr and perhaps the Memphis Zoo Panda Cam too!

  4. wow, I wished they had such a thing when I was in school, I might have become a Panda Keeper :)
    What a wonderful oppertunity for these kids, thank you for sharing this information, very good stuff!!

  5. Thank you for emphasizing that SDZ treats its pandas with the dignity and respect they deserve and not as circus attractions riding bicycles and wearing silly hats (I have seen pictures and videos of performing pandas online and seeing them demeaned in such a way makes me sick). Thank you also for educating the next generation in panda behavior and conservation. Hopefully, some of those kids will go on to careers in zoology, biology, veterinary science, or even work as animal keepers!

  6. How neat for these students. Something like this can change there mind on what they want to do, also
    how to treat animals, any kind of animal. At this point there minds are just ready to learn and think
    differently about animals of all kind.
    Thank you for a great blog Pamela.

  7. Sounds like a fabulous learning adventure. Wish they had opportunities like this when I was in middle school in the 60’s. We visited Bronx Zoo in those days, and there was nothing like the zoological science and behavior studies of 2010.

  8. Wish there was something like this when I was growing up. Thank you for the great blog Pamela. Looking forward to Part 2.

  9. I ENCOURAGE EVERYBODY TO USE THE LINK THAT WILL APPEAR BELOW to do some important reading that the article reccommends we all do. It tells us all about rules and regulations regarding Panda Leasing and how they need to be housed, fed, trained, etc. Think of it as home schooling for adults and youngsters out of the San Diego area who do not get to go to summer camp to learn some things. The articles are not about hearing studies, but on care and housing, rules and regulations of Panda care. To make the link work remove all sp aces and (dot) replace with a period.
    feeds (dot) feedburner (dot) com/PandasLiveOn

  10. I WENT BACK TO THE ARTICLE I RECCOMMENDED to be sure I clicked on everything, and found the next article to be great—about reintroducing Pandas partway back into the wild…..with the hope that the pregnant females are able to give birth (all 4 are pregnant) without interfferrence of humans….hoping the babies will be raised as if they were born in the wild. They will be kept in a protected area with lots of cameras keeping track of them. Unless absolutely needed the babies will not be touch by, or see or hear humans…mom will be in full charge. I think this is a wise way to give the Pandas a chance to “be wild” without all of the “usual dangers”. I look forward to reading more about this trial wild raising, and hope it works. Be sure to click on photos or anything that looks like it may lead elsewhere to be sure to get everything. See you all tomorrow.

  11. What does CSI stand for?
    The only thing came to my mind when reading the title is Crime Scene Investigation, TV series. The program explained here is really interesting, wish we have one like this in our city.
    And a “bioacoustician”? I never knew there’s a job like called that. Thank you for enriching our knowledge!

    Moderator’s note: The name is indeed a spinoff of the popular crime series, as students investigate wildlife.

  12. AT 11:21 p. m. Pacific Time I SAW a bear from their top pass by camera 6. we could improve the view with the absence of the leafy stalk between the camera and the ground…..I am betting it is nearer the cfanera.

  13. Okay, pandafans, the princess ZZ was a bundle of energy today and she didn’t disappoint. Watch her here as she decides to test the “pandafastness” of her tree! Those who were right there to see this for real are one lucky bunch of panda fans! I really hope she will allow us to see her in action during the Black and White Overnight next month. Enjoy our “precious” panda.


  14. WHEN I FINALLY GOT TO CHECKING RITA PETITA’S flikr page tonoght I found 2 new glamour shots of Zhen Zhen—I think you will enjoy them too. Here is the link in case you need it….

  15. Going beyond the classroom walls is teaching at its finest moment. Applause and cheers to you!

  16. Wow….those are some lucky kids….wish I would have had that opportunity. Thanks for all you do…especially in educating our youth.

  17. Aawww, no juggling pandas? How about dancing? It seems to come naturally to some.

  18. To all SDZ people, you guys have the wonderful program going on there, and thank you Parmela for letting me learn about it through your blog.

    #13Pandafan-north and #14Grammmie thanks for your lovely posts of ZZ, love her.

  19. #5 Deb E. – I am 100% with you on this.

  20. The article is fantastic! How very fortunate for these youngsters to have the opportunity to study animals!
    The SDZ has created such a knowledge base for every single visitor! The volunteers at every location have answers to questions. There are classes for drawing/painting the residents available. The overnights at the WAP and the SDZ offer so much excitement. We are blessed daily by viewing the various cams. Thank YOU ALL SDZ staff!!!
    Panda-fan North # !3: Thanks for posting the link!
    Grammmie #14: Thank you for your link!
    To all: Here is a new link in which Zhen is starring:

    Also: DoxiMom has three new videos!!!

  21. Just a heads up for anyone visiting the zoo. While you are waiting in line, look up in the trees. There was a great view of Zhen Zhen resting.

  22. Pandafan-north #13. Thanks for the video of Zhen Zhen. I love her in the trees, bouncing. I’ve always wondered if anyone in the Panda Research building can get any work done when she is putting on her show as I know that if I worked there I would be constantly looking out those windows.

    Debbie: Can ZZ see people if they are at the windows?

  23. I was very interested in seeing that you use operant conditioning training with your pandas. I have been wondering for some time if that was the method you used. As an elementary school teacher I used it for many years with the children in my classrooms and had excellent success in maintaining good behavior in my students

  24. It’s 11:34 a.m. SDZ time. Zhen Zhen is at it again!! Up and over and under, sideways and downways, this branch, that branch, every now a pause to sniff the air, and back to the beginning! Thank you ZZ for your energy and abandon!! You are one sweet cubbie!

  25. Thanks, pandafan and Bobbie Wood, for alerting us to the two very different videos starring Miss Zhen Zhen–one where she’s hard at play and the other where she’s trying to settle down for a snooze. So beautiful no matter what she’s up to.

  26. Yesterday as was watching Yun Zi climbing a tree, I observed him fall. It wasn’t very far that he fell, but I was concerned. Do they hurt themselves when falling like this?

    Moderator’s note: Somehow the panda is built to take this kind of “oops!”.

  27. Thanks so much for the links to the two videos starring Miss ZZ herself. I remember when I visited the zoo in early 2009, Ellie told me that she thought ZZ was the genius in the family. ZZ seems to keep confirming that thought. Wait til her hormones start to rage!!!!

    Doxie, love your videos as always; as do I always get such a good feeling from Lucilla stories.

    Actually, I thought CSI was intended as Conservation Science Investigations, but then what do I know.

    Moderator’s note: It’s possible. I’ve forwarded the question to Pamela.

  28. How long are pandas fertile? I mean, Gao Gao is getting up there in years isn’t he? Glad he is able to help make some beautiful cubs!

  29. We must be in the dog days of summer. Just checked in and I don’t see Bai or Yun Zi, no polar bears swimming, and the elephants aren’t in view either. Everyone must be resting – even little Lin Ping is falling asleep while sucking her thumb. They did a super close up of her, and you can see her sucking away on it. Too precious!

  30. Oops, my bad. Just checked back in on Bai and the little guy, and they were playing behind the throne. Then Yun Zi climbed up on a branch and mom started pulling him down. He was holding on for dear life, and she grabbed him so that he was upside down and he fell head first to the ground.

  31. Fun Facts about Thai Panda Family!!!! Have U ever noticed such behaviors?
    Chuang Chuang is a left handed, he always uses his left paw hold on to his bamboo. And a lot of times while CC’s eating, he likes to place one of his leg up against a bar or uses his hand to grab and lift his own footsie up.
    Lin Hui has a bad habit of sucking her thumb when going to sleep.
    Lin Ping has inherited both behaviors from her parents.

    Lucilla, I translated a few of your Panda stories to LP’s fans. They loved them and wanted me to say thanks to U for your wonderful creativity.

  32. I still haven’t found out if the electric power was reestablished in Bifengxia, but that hasn’t stopped a panda to give birth to twin cubs. Ju Xiao, an eight-year-old panda, gave birth to twins Tuesday. See pictures:
    Another panda cub was born in Chengdu, seventeen-year-old Er Yatou gave birth to her fourth surviving cub, a male weighing 175 grams.
    Read the details in: “Baby boom for giant panda, with three cubs born in two days”

  33. #26 Sally – no need to fret about YZ or any panda falling. They are like rubber – I’ve yet to see a fall where the bear had a hard time getting up. Go on youTube and catch some clips from Wolong or Bifengxia in China showing the cubs climbing, falling, running, playing – in that order or backwards – all over each other. They fall from the platforms, they roll down into the moat, they pull each other down – it’s pure pandamonium!!!!! And no casualties! Great fun!!

  34. #26 Sally – or watch the youtube video of Lin Ping falling from this hugely tall tree when she was a baby….

    Weegee: What do you know about LP falling out of that tree? After I realized she was okay, I watched as Lin Hui came over to her, grabbed her by the scruff of her neck and drug her back into the enclosures for the nannykeepers to check her out. I’m thinking the keepers were calling LH in but I like to think that LH knew she had to take LP in for them look her over…

  35. Sawadee ka Weegee,

    Thank you. WOW, I am now a translated writer. Who knew. As Yun Zi would say, ‘Hee Hee.’ Maybe I should do a story about CC and GG-the papas’ club. Kop Kun Ka.

  36. # 13 pandafan-north: You never fail to make my day with the ZZ videos.

    # 14 Grammmie: I actually made some kind of cooing sound when I saw those pictures. She is just simply PRECIOUS (perfect name for her!)

    # 20 Bobbie Wood: AAAHHHHH! UPCLOSE CUTENESS! :)

    # 31 Wee gee: Awww. Cuteness. Thanks.

  37. Thanks for the article Pamela, it is so great to have our youngsters learning about the animals. You get to shape young minds and teach them how precious all the animals are. Far cry from when I went to school. I am not ancient or anything but things sure have come a long way. What a great program.
    #13 pandafan – what a great video of Zhennie! I love her! I loved listening to whom I assume is the keeper or moderator talking about her and how she is not like other bears having so much energy and all. It was also cute listening to the small child say “oh oh” when she was hanging there making everyone nervous as usual.
    Rita Petita had some great pics as usual, Zhennie is beautiful. I love all these bears (and all animals) for that matter. Pandas have been my fav though since I was a child. I hope we get to see some birthday videos from the zoo, we have not had one for awhile! Thanks again to all the staff, moderators and to all on this blog. Great info from all! :)

  38. IF YOU DO NOT ALREADY SUBSCRIBE TO THE FREE PANDA News check over the copied and pasted story and the home page with the news of panda births to see if it is something you might like. You can get the information from the home page link right below. It was very nice to see some good Panda news today……especially the new babies coming along—with many more expected. They even chat about the 4 pregnant females and getting them ready for semi-wild release. There should be something for everybody.

    pandanews (dot) org/ (home page.)

    Tokyo Ueno Zoo to Get a Pair of Giant Pandas

  39. #30 LAUREN He should know by now that when momma is ready to play he should be ready also. I cannot figure out why he persists in trying to do anything opposite momma’s wishes. Oh that is right, he is a boy and thinks he should be in charge….wait until momma reads about that.

    #31 WeeGee At the link I will put here you will find the work of Bruce in KC (Kansas City), he writes about Project Bamboo, the Panda Space Shuttle Program. I understand when it got to China the Laughter could be heard just about everywhere. We have been waiting quite a while to hear from Bruce again….I hope it comes soon. In the meantime—enjoy and share if you like.
    Bruce in KC says:
    March 18th, 2010 at 9:10 am
    For those of you that have been following the TOP SECRET Project Bamboo (don’t worry, your identities are safe!)
    members.trainorders.com/atsf90east/Project_Bamboo.pdf —-copy and paste
    The nation’s TOP SECRET Pandas In Space Program thanks you for your support!

  40. Weegee, what was happening at the zoo today? I was watching the videos and it looked like there was some kind of festival going on – LP got lots of colorful goodies to play with, the keepers were wearing different uniforms and this gentleman (is he the head of the zoo?) was doing a lot of speaking. We would so appreciate if you can let us know what was happening. Thank you, Weegee!

  41. Hello pandafans!! Presenting Chuang Chuang, papa bear extraordinaire, daddy to Lin Ping! Watch him make short work of the plants in his enclosure, spreading the dirt around and rolling around in it like there’s no tomorrow!! In between the scenes of panda chaos, you see a very young LP, just getting used to walking, treading slowly across the grass. Then it’s back to papa CC and his dirt bath!! Enjoy everyone!


  42. #11 Jessy
    CSI stands for Conservation Science Investigation.

    #22 Lee
    Yes, she can be very distracting. Sometimes I’ll be talking to a colleague and, out of the corner of my eye, I’ll see ZZ bouncing around in the tree through the window. Inevitably we have to stop whatever it is we are discussing and admire her cuteness for a moment.
    No, ZZ can’t see people through the windows.

  43. Weegee, that is so cute about LH and LP sucking their thumbs when sleeping. Would you happen to have a video link for this? I love reading about the different habits of the bears–they each have their own personalities for sure. I thought it was adorable that ZZ was heard humming by the keepers. Wonder if she still does this?

  44. #40 pandafan-north – Look at the date, Lin Ping just turned 13 month old. I don’t think anybody, hoomans or animals, has had that many birthdays in the history of birthdays… LOL

  45. I can only imagine seeing Miss ZZ popping up into view as Pamela #42 describes–how amazing! If ZZ can’t see in (one-way glass?), she must be seeing her reflection and wondering who that funny, beautiful panda girl is.

    I think many of us who are Zhennie fans agree with Ellie that she is a little panda genius. I wonder how she will contribute to the species in some extraordinary way, because I’m pretty sure she will.

    There has been recent news about Mei Lan and Tai, but has anyone heard about Mei Sheng recently, or Hua Mei?

  46. Moderator: Sorry, I made a mistake, Lin Ping just turned 14 month old..

  47. On July 10, I FINALLY GOT TO SEE YUN ZI IN PERSON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 😀 He is SSSSSSSSSSSSOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO CUTE 😀 😀 😀

  48. Another brutally hot day here in MA, so I’ve stayed cool in the house watching all the live cams, not to mention little Miss Lin Ping in Thailand. I want to tell all of you fellow bloggers just how much I love reading the blogs from each and every one of you. Your enthusiasm is contagious. #32, Danielle, NY, your links to those articles sent me on a merry journey that just kept going and going with the information. #20, Bobbie Wood, thank you for the video of Zhen Zhen – she is so beautiful and funny. Pandafan-north, Chuang Chuang is one wild and crazy guy. I love Lucilla’s stories, Doxiemom’s videos, and, the ever great photo shots from Rita Petita, whose name I just love to say. And I am particularly happy to have Weegee join us with his imput and stories about Lin Ping, Lin Hui, and Chuang Chuang – a welcome new addition to our group. And most importantly, to you, Grammie, for your passion and love for these wonderful creatures, and for sharing your thoughts and zest for life with us. You keep this blog going, and I thank you.

  49. Juggling pandas…thanks for the mental image and the giggle!

  50. #49 SHERI Are yours wearing party hats, big smiles and riding unicycles while thry juggle??? The ones that pop into my head are that and more.

  51. What a hoot Zhen Zhen has been for the last 1/2 hour. If she could do it in her yard then she did. Up the trees, down the trees, in the sawdust, down the bank, in the pool, bouncing in the trees etc. She even dragged her sack with her part of the time.

    I think someone is saying ‘I’m so cute ‘ so she will get lots of presents next week.