Posted at 4:10 pm September 9, 2005 by Suzanne Hall

This week, we introduced a change in our management regime for Gao Gao and Mei Sheng. Thinking it might be a stimulating opportunity for them, we opened a “howdy door” between them on exhibit. This meant that for several hours a day there was a corridor available through which our two male pandas could see, smell, and even touch each other.

Since the howdy door is a solid structure with a few small holes, they can’t come into direct contact, which could open up the possibility of physical danger, as when a fight might break out. Instead, should the encounters between them become heated, each animal has the opportunity to retreat from the door without the other panda being able to follow. We were not anticipating any such hostility, however.

Mei Sheng is at a stage in his life (2 years old) in which he is inclined to be highly social. In the past, we noted the same behavior in Hua Mei, in that she became very friendly and interactive with her keepers after she was weaned from Bai Yun. Subadults of this age are often housed together in Wolong in large, outdoor pens that give them the opportunity to enjoy some solitary time if they prefer. Mei Sheng appears to be no different than these other youngsters we have observed, demonstrating a social nature that drives him to be curious and engaging with the people around him. Would he be interested in his daddy, Gao Gao?

Gao Gao, unlike Mei Sheng, is in the prime of adult male life. By nature, adults are highly solitary. This is particularly important when your food source is a plant like bamboo. If you find a good stand to feed from, it helps not to have an entourage with you; your available food source will dwindle quickly when you have to share it among many. So pandas generally travel alone, unless they have a nursing cub in tow. And since nursing cubs are generally more interested in drinking milk than eating bamboo, they don’t represent a threat to a female’s bamboo stash.

Gao Gao is a bit unusual among adult males, however. He is very social with people, which may be a result of his captive upbringing. Many of you may know that he was brought into captivity as a very young cub, before he would have been weaned naturally. Such a start in life may have helped him develop a special affinity for his human caregivers.

So what happened when we opened the howdy door? Not much. For the first day or two, neither bear even noticed that the door was open! Eventually, Mei Sheng noticed…and as expected, he showed real curiosity by sitting at the gate and looking across to the other side. He visited the gate several times, sniffing intently, waiting patiently, and even scent marking the gate as “his,” a bold maneuver with a bigger male a few yards away! But Gao Gao didn’t indulge his firstborn and continued to focus on his priority: filling his belly with bamboo. At the San Diego Zoo, Gao Gao doesn’t have to worry much about competition for his favorite food, but I guess he has his priorities!

Suzanne Hall is the panda research technician for the San Diego Zoo’s Office of Giant Panda Conservation.

View Bai Yun and her cub on Panda Cam

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34 Responses to “Howdy!”

  1. Mandy Speers says:

    I got to see Gao Gao on the panda-cam this morning (NYC time) while he was eating his bamboo breakfast. It was good to see him! I am quite enamored with the baby cub and Bai, but was happy to see Pops!

  2. Mary Ann says:

    Wow! A Howdy door! I can’t wait to hear if Gao Gao finally gives in to curiosity over bamboo and checks out his son. I would love to be on the panda team, one of the caretakers that gets to interact with these wonderful creatures. You are truly blessed to do so. My only hope is that I can get there to see the pandas before Mei Sheng has to leave for China. I’ve watched him since birth, and would so love to get across the country to see him!

  3. Pandalover says:

    How interesting! Keep us informed.

  4. Ellen - - Poway, CA says:

    What is the schedule (time of day) for placing fresh bamboo in the panda enclosures? Are there cameras in all the panda enclosures? Maybe we could get a look at the other pandas if a schedule were set when they would be shown….??????????

  5. Deb says:

    Love watching Mother and baby! I do wish the identifying numbers and the time were smaller and closer to the bottom, so they wouldn’t cover up so much of the picture.

  6. Hazel Turnbull says:

    Thank you for the viewing of Mei Sheng and Gao Gao yesterday morning – our ‘baby’ boy has developed into a handsome two year old. When Mei Sheng was sitting ‘side-on’ to the cam I thought that he still has the profile (head) of his dad Gao Gao and his ears are similar to his mom Bai Yun. It is good to read about the ‘howdy door’ – I can well imagine that Mei Sheng was curious and Gao Gao with his ‘laid back’ attitude to life was none too bothered!

    Thank you for caring for them so well….

    Kind regards – Hazel Turnbull

  7. Hazel Turnbull says:

    I note that Mei Sheng and Gao Gao now have a ‘howdy door’ between them on exhibit – I have therefore decided on an apt name for my monitor, it will be known as my ‘howdy screen’ when I am viewing the pandas!

    Kind regards….Hazel Turnbull

  8. Jan in Richmond, VA says:

    I am intriqued by the solitary aspect of these bears. Has much research been done as to whether this has always been the case with them. What I mean is, is it possible that some time ago, they did travel in packs because their food supply was readily available to them. Because they are now forced to be solitary, could this be the reason some females are totally incapable of caring for their cubs. Since they have not seen other female panda’s doing the mothering thing, they are, for lack of a better word, clueless? The same would hold for the mating process….

    This little female seems to be quite the little wiggle worm….compared to the male DC cub. Has the staff noticed that the females seem to develope quicker than the males as far as movement, lifting of head, scooting around, etc.

    Keep up the good work….

  9. jennifer says:

    Thanks so very much for your updates on the pandas, they are so filled with information. Thanks also for loving and caring for the bears! I love reading about all of them and seeing them on the panda cam and the pictures you post. Thanks!!

  10. Betty says:

    I’m glad to see the Howdy Door open between Gao Gao and Mei Sheng. Maybe if Mei is persistent he’ll meet his father some day.

  11. Bernice says:

    Mei Sheng and Gao Gao’s reaction to the ‘howdy’ door is so adorable! 🙂 It’s just like Mei Sheng to investigate the door like the curious big baby that he is. And Gao Gao is just the most laid back panda… Love them both!

    The little girl is getting quite pretty now…kudos to the wonderful momma!! 🙂

  12. Kelvin says:

    I wonder if the scientists could train the captive born pandas, like Mei Sheng, to accept all green plants, i.e. all kind of leaves and vegetables as their food. In the wild, pandas couldn’t find any apple, carrot, sweet potato…something they had never seen before, still they accepted them as food, like Gao Gao.

  13. Ellen says:

    Sunday, Sep. 11

    Bai Yun was gone from the birthing den for over one hour. Baby seemed content to just sleep. As a steady viewer, I have never seen mother to be gone that long. That would have been a good time to turn the cam on outside so that we could see Bai Yun in the outside setting. Or perhaps cam could have been on the outside to view the other pandas.

  14. Linda Imhoff says:

    Am I mistaken, or is this new cub constantly moving? I do not remember the other ones being quite this active. No wonder momma is exhausted! Thank-you so much for the Panda Cam.

  15. Gail Green says:

    In the wake of all of the sadness today, 9/11 and Gulf Coast, I find joy in watching momma and baby girl often…they are a beautiful reminder that life does go on, even in the midst of tragedy. Keep up the excellent coverage of your beloved pandas.

    Thanks, Gail Green

  16. GAIL says:



  17. Jeannie says:

    How cute! Can one of the cameras pick up the Howdy Door, so that we can catch a peek of the two if Gao Gao’s curosity gets the better of him? That would be adorable to see. And thank you for putting Mei Sheng and Gao Gao on the Panda Cam for awhile last Friday – I’m just mesmerized by them. Thanks again!!!!!

  18. Elisa says:

    Please, can you include Mei Sheng’s 2nd birthday video in the videos list, because I love watching old videos and remember when he was a baby, and also the video when he turned 1, with a lot of the panda Staff interviews.

    I saw Mei Sheng last Friday by cam and he was much more of a handsome youngster. Elisa from Brazil

  19. Loh says:

    I’ve caught a tickled view from the NZ panda cam just then, momma Mei Xiang gave a ” tongue wash” to the baby, the baby didn’t seem to enjoy the bath, he kept twisting his body and trying to escape from momma’s licking. The most amazing action is that he did cover his eyes with his right paw, like Mei Sheng did during one of his health exams when he was about five months old.

  20. Michelle says:

    Are the cub’s eyes open yet? If not, when will they be?

  21. Loh says:

    I have the same question as Linda (comment 14), I have been watching the cam since 09:35am

    and posted a comment here then go back to the cam, the baby girl doesn’t stop twisting and rolling around ! Is she a bit hyperactive ?

  22. Susan says:

    I just want to thank the San Diego Zoo for their Panda Cams, and the opportunity to view the new baby. With the horrible news of the past few weeks, popping in and taking a look at whoever is in focus at the time is a guaranteed smile. Very valuable right now. Thanks again!

  23. Tahlia says:

    Dear fellow bloggers and panda lovers, It has recently come to my attention that we panda enthusiasts have no way in sharing pictures of our beloved Bai Yun’s new baby girl. I vote to some how persuade the fine people at the Panda Research Station to give us a way in sharing our photos. A suggestion I have would be to submit photos to them and they can create a page of pics of the day, week or month. Also I vote to have the picture of the new baby changed on the main page. I think it makes her look homely and does her no justice as she is such a beautiful little thing.

  24. Julie says:

    My boyfriend & I actually went to visit your pandas this weekend. The 7 hour drive down there was well worth it. We strongly encourage everyone who has the chance to go see them up close even though it was only for a couple minutes. Thank you for the great time! =)

  25. Jean says:

    Dear Giant Panda Team, is it true that in China the panda centers will let you hold a baby panda if you pay a fee? Because if that’s true then I will be planning my next trip to China, they are so cute!

  26. vanessa says:

    Thanks. This was really interesting to read. Do male panda bears normally fight if left together?

  27. Michelle says:

    I’ve noticed lately Bai Yun dragging bamboo into the den every day. Is there any signifigance to this?

  28. Hazel Turnbull says:

    It’s magic watching Bai Yun trying to restrain her daughter – she is a little ‘wriggler’ just like Hua Mei when she was a cub – I was certain we would have a good view of her when she ‘escaped’ while Bai was taking a well earned nap! Not too long before she will pop outside the door when Bai is not looking!

    The male cub at DC appears quite calm as did our wonderful Mei Sheng – maybe it is the female cubs that are all get up and go from the word off.

    Has Wolong ever made any comments regarding this possibilty?

    Thank you for all the care and attention that you lavish on them.

    Kind regards….Hazel Turnbull

  29. panda lovers says:

    An answer to Jean (comment No. 25): yes. We took a bunch of students to Chengdu, and most of the students got to hold baby pandas! They were dying with happiness!

  30. Alice says:

    The cub at DC is now learning to walk , but it is more like swimming rather than crawling.

  31. Susan O says:

    Mei Sheng scent marking the howdy door-would have loved to have seen that! Bai Yun and Baby are so precious. I started watching Mei Sheng from the beginning too, and it was love at first sight. Thanks for everything you do!

  32. Jeannie says:

    Was just watching the little one wiggle around and noticed she’s grown into her tail quite nicely. What a cutie pie :o)

  33. Ann says:

    It is so amazing to watch Bai Yun and baby and the progress. When things at work get stressful I just tune in to the panda cam and it makes me smile. It is wonderful to watch how loving and motherly Bai Yun is. Very very sweet!

  34. Allyn says:


    I have so many questions and comments. I am completely captivated by the new cub; she is fascinating. I am wondering what you mean by Gao Gao being social with humans? Can you describe Gao Gao’s social behavior towards people and how his keepers treat Gao Gao? Is there physical contact? Along the same lines, watching the new cub during her weekly physicals, I wonder if there have been any decisions about the new cub’s contact with human beings? I realize that she is a wild animal but the cub seemed very comfortable during her fourth exam and I am curious as to the level of interaction that she will have with humans as she grows.

    Finally, I have not seen anything about the panda’s intelligence. Sometimes, Bai Yun seems so curious about the video camera. How intelligent are pandas? How interested are the pandas in the people that care for them?

    I am amazed at how similar Bai Yun and the baby cub’s behavior is to a human mother and child. I feel as though I have learned so much. Thank you so much. Watching the pandas has been such a joy!