I have been studying the stereotypic activities of the pandas here at Bi Feng Xia for the past several weeks, keeping track of what kinds of stereotypies each panda exhibits and the amount of time they spend on these behaviors. So far, Yao Yuan is the only panda that has not shown any kind of stereotypy or quasi-stereotype during the times that I have observed her. Yao Yuan is a wild born female panda, the keepers at the breeding center estimate that she was born around 1994, making her about 18 years old. She was bred earlier this year and if she is pregnant, the keepers believe she will be the first panda to give birth, probably in mid-July. Like most pandas, she does spend the majority of her time eating and sleeping, but when she is active (usually early in the morning), I have not seen her pace, sway or do any of the head tilts that are characteristic of some of the other pandas.
The other day during my morning observation, Yao Yuan walked out into the outdoor portion of her enclosure and began to explore. She walked along, sniffing the trees and the large plants until she arrived at a pile of large tree branches in the far corner of her enclosure. She stopped walking and began picking up branches, moving them, digging around and under them and even pouncing on them. This was the first time that I had seen one of the pandas take an interest in anything in their enclosures (besides food items). Even her keeper stopped what he was doing and climbed up on the walkway and watched her with me because she was rustling around so much. She spent about 15 minutes investigating and manipulating the branches before wandering back inside to eat her breakfast. It was very interesting to me to see Yao Yuan so fascinated by the branches.
I have just gotten clearance by the managers to start studying the personalities of some of the pandas through the introduction of novel enrichment. Seeing Yao Yuan take such an interest in the branches in her enclosure has made me very excited to see what kinds of behaviors I will observe during the personality study.