Meghan & David Geeking Out on a Sidewalk in Chengdu, China
As an advisor for Meghan’s PhD panda project, it was an extreme delight to spend a few days with David touring the facilities here in Sichuan, China. David is an extremely knowledgeable scientist and quite the accomplished traveller given his ability to handle a 16 hr. time difference with little effort.
David works as a Conservation Program Scientist for the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Oregon. In order for him to make the trip to China, he had to endure 18 hours of flights covering 7000 miles. We sincerely appreciate him for taking the time to visit.
After the partial destruction of the Wolong panda center during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, plans were laid out to build a new facility a few kilometers away. Additionally, a disease control center was to be built closer to Chengdu.
It has now been five years since the earthquake and with a substantial donated amount of ~$500,000,000 USD, the two facilities are nearly complete. We were allowed inside both locations for a brief tour. Continue reading →
Everyone at the base has been busy the last couple of weeks preparing for the arrival of the first panda cubs: All the male pandas have been moved out of the breeding center to make room for the females that the staff believes are close to giving birth, the breeding managers are spending more and more time up at the breeding center checking up on the females, and the keepers are taking turns working the graveyard panda watch, to make sure someone is close by at all times in case a cub decides to arrive.
Last Wednesday night, Xi Mei was the first female to give birth this year. She gave birth to twins, one male and one female, in the middle of the night with no complications. If a panda gives birth to twins in the wild, it is thought that the mother is forced to pick one to feed and nurture because it would be nearly impossible for her to raise two cubs by herself (though recent research by our collaborators at San Diego Zoo have found evidence that females actually do rear two cubs at once). At the panda center, if a female panda gives birth to twins, like Xi Mei, the keepers will take the second cub, wrap it up in warm blankets and transfer the newborn to the panda kindergarten where it will be placed in an incubator. The keepers will switch out the cubs every couple of days to ensure that both the cubs get essential bonding time with their mother.
When I heard that Xi Mei had twins, I went up to the breeding center to see if I could see them. One was being kept out of sight in the panda kindergarten, but I hoped I could catch a glimpse of the cub that was still with its mother. The door to Xi Mei’s enclosure was closed and the windows were covered with curtains so no one could see inside. The only way to see her and her baby was through the video feed in the keepers’ office. Unfortunately, since panda cubs are so small when they are born I could not see Xi Mei’s baby; she was cradling it in her arms the entire time and it was impossible to see the tiny baby through her thick fur. But you could tell that it was there. She kept staring down and licking the little baby in her arms. I am hoping that I will be able to see them soon though! The keepers think that Shui Xiu will be the next one to give birth any day now. I will keep updating as more and more cubs start arriving.
If you missed it in early December, the Edinburgh Zoo just received Tian Tian and Yang Guang from China (read the full story at the BBC).
Last year while we were in China the CCRCGP was all abuzz with getting this breeding pair ready to leave, which meant that we got to meet both of them and have our pictures taken (because we knew they’d be celebrities!). Here we are with Tian Tian last March:
Nate & Meghan with their daughter Dee in front of Tian Tian
Tian Tian, meaning “sweetie” and Yang Guang means ‘sunshine’ in Chinese. Yang Guang was born on 14 August 2003 in Wolong. In March 2011 he moved to the same location in Bifengxia as Tian Tian so we were just lucky enough to catch the same month that Yang Guang was moved to BFX.