I started the panda “personality” study last week and I have been introducing a basketball into the pandas’ enclosures and recording their reactions. So far most of the subjects have been females (the birthing season is fast approaching and I wanted to get as many females done before that happens), however I did have some extra time at the new breeding center and decided to try my luck Mei Sheng. He is a male panda that was born at the San Diego Zoo in August of 2003. He was sent to the Wolong panda center in 2007 and moved to the CCRCGP after the 2008 earthquake.
Most of the female subjects sniff around and approached the basketball within the first minute, pawing at it slightly and following the ball around, but lose interest within the first 7 minutes and fall asleep in a corner. Prior to introducing the basketball to Mei Sheng, I hypothesized that a male would be more aggressive towards the ball than the females had been.
I had one of the keepers place the ball into a portion of Mei Sheng’s enclosure when he was not around, then we opened the doors to let him in. As soon as he approached the door, he started sniffing heavily, when he saw the ball he jumped back at least a foot from where he was standing. I have never seen a panda move that fast. It took him several minutes before he would attempt to approach the basketball and avoided it the majority of the time. He spent most of the hour that I observed him pacing around the room and vocalizing, which is unusual because he is normally not a vocal animal, nor does he pace as much as other pandas. I felt bad because he seemed to be anxious the entire time he was in the enclosure with the ball, I did not mean to cause him any distress! After the hour was up, a keeper opened up the door and Mei Sheng quickly left the room. Out of any panda that I have studied so far, Mei Sheng is the only one that has been fearful of the ball. I really did not expect his reaction to the basketball, it was very interesting to see how he behaved because it was close to the opposite of what I was expecting. I am anxious to observe the other male pandas to see how their behavior compares to Mei Sheng’s (and the females too!).