Good Benefits

Posted at 10:39 am December 15, 2006 by Kay Ferguson

 Mei Sheng enjoys the snowHave you ever wondered how hard it is for a giant panda to survive in the wild? How hard it must be to cut down your bamboo from the forest, then sit and eat 12 to 14 hours a day just to survive?

Male pandas take large areas and females a little less, seldom leaving their territory, working daily eating bamboo. In a closed, protected environment they truly do not have to work at survival. While living at the Giant Panda Research Station at the San Diego Zoo, the pandas have good benefits: climate-controlled bedrooms, a gardener to cut the bamboo, keepers, vets, and much more.

All the animals at the Zoo have the best of benefits because we are in the business of making animals happy with good care. Since the pandas are here on loan from China, we must take special care of them. But we take special care of all our animals, with the very best of everything. I have to chuckle…they have better benefits than most of us, but we are not endangered, like so many animals of our world. Caring for the pandas is up to their keepers and we have the best! They not only provide for their care but also for their enrichment. It is so nice to watch the keepers care for the pandas, not only cleaning their enclosures but taking the time for training and just small talk with them.

Pandas are pretty smart animals and they like the attention. Mei Sheng (pictured) is the most needy of the bears. He wants that touch and to be fed apples–anything for the attention. The other day, Mei Sheng was in rare form and our guests were enjoying watching him be a silly bear. One guest said to another, “Here, let me move so you can take a photo.” The other guest replied, “No, I don’t have a camera but I do have a very good memory.”

Mei Sheng is often the most active of the bears here and at times it is hard to move our guests through the station when so much activity is going on. He loves to play and is so much fun to watch as he climbs high into the trees and hangs by his hind legs. I’m so glad that pandas are here in San Diego and I hope you will enjoy them as well.

Kay Ferguson is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Comments are currently closed. Pinging is not allowed.

36 Responses to “Good Benefits”

  1. Michelle says:

    It seems to me that male panda cubs want attention and play more than female cubs. Mei Sheng and Tai Shan are perfect examples of this, where as Su Lin seems content to stay by herself in the trees. I wonder why this is.

    PS-welcome little Mei Lan!! 🙂

  2. Pamela G says:

    I had the idea that all of the American Pandas should get together for a Christmas party. This is the result:

    A Christmas Visit from Panda Claws

    “Twas the night before Christmas; in four US zoos

    Pandas napped, or they played, or they munched their bamboos.

    Black Panda stockings were seen everywhere,

    but these were alive and were covered with hair.

    Tai, Su, and Mei Lan napped by their mummies

    While visions of fruitsicles tickled their tummies.

    In Washington Zoo the Pandas were alone.

    It was dark, cold, and snowing, the keepers gone home.

    A soft, quiet bleat came from out of the dark..

    Tian Tian sprang up and then stopped in mid-bark.

    A figure appeared through the wall by his bed;

    A fat, laughing Panda, but dressed all in red!

    “Peace, my big friend,” he said, waving his paws.

    “I come bearing gifts, for I am Panda Claws!”

    “Now, let’s gather your mate and your handsome son, Tai,

    And all of you put your paws over your eyes,

    For we’re traveling to Memphis to pick up two more,

    Where Le Le and Ya Ya await by their door.”

    He gave four quick barks, touched his paw to his nose,

    The world whirled around, and a cold wind arose!

    Four Pandas spun high, then flew through moonlight

    Over snow-covered country, a beautiful sight!

    They touched down in Memphis just outside the zoo

    And Panda Claws gathered the Tennessee two.

    Six barks, a nose touch, and all paws left the ground,

    Panda Claws cried “Hang on! We are Atlanta bound!”

    The air was much warmer when they reached AZ

    And the group was then joined by the Atlanta three.

    “Now hang on!” Mr. Claws cried, “‘Cause I have to warn ya,

    “The next trip’s a long one. On to California!”

    He gave nine loud barks and again touched his nose

    And more swiftly than eagles nine Pandas arose

    And flew through the air like fat arrows, straight West,

    While Lun Lun clutched little Mei Lan to her breast.

    “Wheeee!” cried Tai Shan, “Mommie, dis is so FUN!

    “But how can we fwy?” “Panda magic, my son.”

    They landed at SDZ, silent as ghosts,

    And with Bai Yun as hostess and Gao Gao as host

    Had a huge Panda party, and there was no lack,

    For jolly old Panda Claws opened his sack!

    There were apples, and pears, fruitsicles galore!

    Honey, carrots, sweet potatoes and more.

    There were tender bamboo shoots, just out of the ground,

    And wonderful scent blocks were all passed around.

    Puzzles and boxes were filled with more treats

    Until every Panda was stuffed full of sweets.

    Then the adults sat down for a gossip and scratch

    And Mei Sheng and Tai had a wrestling match.

    Mei Xiang told a tale of a dastardly bee,

    While Su Lin taught Mei Lan to climb a small tree.

    Gao Gao showed Yang Yang his bamboo technique,

    While Le Le licked honey from sweet Ya Ya’s cheek..

    Bai Yun and Lun Lun and Mei Xiang compared

    Cub-birthing stories, and den tales were shared.

    Then Panda Claws rose, gave each bear’s nose a tap

    And they all snuggled down for a Christmas Eve nap.

    Then Panda Claws whispered in sweet Ya Ya’s ear,

    “You’re going to be raising a new cub next year!”

    He whispered the same words to Mei Xiang and Bai

    Then went to Mei Sheng and whispered with a sigh,

    “You will go Home soon, traveling far through the air.

    A beautiful Panda girl awaits you there.”

    Panda Claws said no more, but barked twelve times and then

    Sent each sleeping Panda back to its own den!

    And on Christmas Day when the Pandas were fed

    In each den the keepers found cloth scraps, bright red.

    And Tai Shan was singing amidst his bamboo,

    “Panda Bwessings to all! Mewwy Cwisp Moss to you!”

  3. Cathy B. says:

    Thank you Pamela for the wonderful and creative tribute to all the beautiful Pandas. That is one party I would love to crash!

  4. Cheryl says:

    Pamela – that is the sweetest story! Thank you so much – I will read it over and over again. Merry Christmas!!!

  5. Margot says:

    Pamela G–I think you’ve outdone yourself (although I still love your lullabies!). Thanks for the wonderfully imaginative story of the Pandas’ Christmas Party. What a get-together that would be.

    Kay–Thanks for your continuing information about the pandas. It is startling to think of how different the lives of the pandas at SDZ are as compared with their wild kin. And the photo of Mei Sheng frolicking in the snow is precious!

  6. Lisa Anderson says:

    Kay, what a fun accounting of how playful and silly Mei Sheng can be…..he sounds like quite a character! Good to know he loves his ” appowz” (Pandanese for apples), just like his cousin in DC.

    Happy holidays to you and to all at SDZ who work so hard to care for Bai Yun, Mei Sheng, Gao Gao and sweet lil Su Lin. Warm panda hugs to you all!

  7. Lisa Anderson says:

    Pamela G, you have truly created a masterpiece! Have you ever considered a career in children’s books? You capture the essence of pandas so well! I am saving your Christmas poem to savour again and again this holiday season. May your holidays be peaceful and joyous, and your New Year be blessed!

  8. Della says:

    Wow Mom… Not only are you an incredible writer but that Pamela G is pretty awesome herself! What a pair the two of you make! I’ve enjoyed reading this blog tremendously!

    Thanks to all of you for interacting with each other about the precious creatures that God created for us to care for!

    It is amazing to think what their lives must be like in the wild! So much different than where they are living now! It is also amazing that it has come to caring for these awesome creatures in capativity!

    But thank God there are wonderful organizations like the San Diego Zoo, Washington D.C. zoo and so many others in the US and around the world that value these animals and so many others to dedicate their time, talents and treasures to save the Pandas and the other creatures that are endangered or coming close to being that!

    Thanks San Diego Zoo for being a part of that and allowing my mom to be a part as well. Thanks, Mom, for being a part of that!

  9. Jennifer & Rose says:

    Hi Kay,

    This is Jennifer & Rose from Milwaukee. We just wanted to say ” thank you” for spending some time with us at the Panda Research Station as the Zoo was closing on Friday. We so enjoyed your tales of ” Van Gao” , Bai, Su & Mei Sheng. It was the perfect way to end our vacation and we are already planning a trip for next year! Best of luck with the new grandson and with mating season this spring! Until we can return again we’ll be watching the web cam and eagerly anticipating your entertaining blogs!

    Happy Holidays!

    -Jennifer & Rose

  10. Vickie says:

    I have a question for the panda cam community. If Mei Sheng means ” Born in the USA” and Hua Mei means ” China/USA” , wouldn’t Mei Lan mean ” USA Beauty” not ” Atlanta Beauty” ? Or, are there many interpretations of the same word. Just a thought.

  11. Joy :) says:

    Pamela, that is just magnificent!!! Thanks for sharing the details of Panda Christmas Eve so we now know what happens at the Panda Party.

    And, yes, thanks to all around the world who work to save our endangered friends. May this truly be a time of peace on earth and good will to all!

  12. barbara says:

    Pamela G, Thank you for the wonderful Christmas Poem. It was gorgeous. You have a beautiful way with words and i agree with lisa that you should put together a book of poems and lullabys. Time has come too fast for Mei sheng. I will miss seeing his beautiful smile. i hope, as panda paws says, that there will be new babies next year, especially for Memphis. to all the keepers: may the joy of the season be upon you and your charges.

  13. Margaret says:

    Thanks, Kay, for another wonderful account of the lives of Mei Sheng and his family. The more I read about how ” needy” Mei Sheng is, I wonder how he will fare on his journey to China, and how he will adapt to new keepers. Is anyone going with him on his journey to help him get acclimated, and if so, how long will they stay? Does Wolong send any of their keepers to SDZ to get to know the pandas before they journey to their faraway Panda home?

    Thanks, Pamela G, for a truly outstanding story of Panda Christmas. I think we all wish that the 12 pandas living in the US could get together and discuss their lives and experiences here. I often wonder what life will be like for them when they return to China. Will they have any contact with each other, and, will they remember their years in the US? Since we can only observe behavior, and not really be in the minds and memories of these treasured animals, it is hard to say what really goes through their minds. Your tale brought many tears to my eyes. It is a fairy tale ” dream” that I would love to ponder in my sleep on Christmas Eve.

  14. Amanda says:

    I wonder… What happens to all these beautiful pandas we have at the zoo when they go back to China and then to the wild? Do they keep them apart, in a kind of sanctuary for ever or do they have to start looking for their food and having to face problems with other predators?

  15. TAMI MICHAUD says:


    I always felt that the animals in good zoos and places similar made these animals actually the chosen ones in the animal kingdom.

    Pamela g, what a treat…thank you.

    I went to the San Diego wild animal park and took the 3 1/2hr. Caravan ride!!! Before we started, the guide asked if anyone had done this before…there were 9 of us on board. 7 said they had many times. The 2 left were my friend and I…what an experience…I had requested that the pandas from the zoo be there but maybe it was too hot for them that day!!!!!

  16. Pamela G says:

    Amanda (14), The American Pandas probably will not be returned to the wild. Most of them are genetically valuable and will remain at the Chinese breeding facilities where they will be cared for as they make more Panda babies. Suzanne Hall explained in an earlier blog that Pandas raised the way ours are would probably not do well in the wild, as they do not fear humans.

  17. Kay says:

    What a great poem, Pamela! I just loved it and had to say thank you for adding this to my blog. I’m honored.

    Thanks for keeping in touch with the bears and don’t stop caring and writing these lovely verses, you are fantastic.


  18. Pamela G says:

    Kay, I’m so glad you enjoyed the poem. These bears – and the wonderful people like you who care for them – have come to mean a lot to me. Years ago I did volunteer work with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and raised many baby wild animals and birds and returned them to the wild. It was a joy to me when one of ‘my’ fawns returned – very warily – to the edge of my farm to say goodbye before the wild herd she had joined called her back into the woods. There is nothing like knowing that you have saved a wild life and made a difference.

    I envy you so much for working in one of the world’s finest zoos and especially for being so near the Pandas. I am honored that the poem was accepted on your blog, and that both you and your lovely daughter liked it.

    I live in New Jersey now, and will probably never get to visit you and ‘your’ bears, but thanks to the Pandacam and your wonderful writing, I feel as though I have visited many times. Thank you so much.

  19. Cheryl says:

    Gosh… it just occured to me – maybe the pandas will get snow for Christmas. It’s certainly been cold enough lately – especially at night. Wouldn’t that be a great holiday surprise for our panda family (and us too!) – hint, hint…

  20. Debora says:

    I always believed that Christmas Eve was magical, and now I know Pandas think so too! thanks so much for the beautiful Christmas Eve story, Pamela G. If every day could be like Christmas . . . . The wonder and magic of this time of the year is present for all of us if we just look, and what better way than to enjoy the beauty of nature with ” our” Pandas. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all the panda bloggers and everyone at SDZ, National Zoo, Atlanta Zoo, and Memphis Zoo! Thanks so much for all you do for our beloved Pandas!

  21. Jennifer says:

    The DC pandas will probably not get snow. It’s unseasonably warm here in northern Virginia!

  22. P Wong says:

    Pamela G. , I enjoyed your poem.

    And to Kay, I love your stories.

    To Vickie (#10), yes, Mei can mean beauty or America. and Lan can be orchid or Atlanta. So Mei Lan can also mean beautiful orchid, American orchid, America Atlanta, beatiful Atlanta and so on.

    Well, I must stop here, on my way to the library before it closes. I may have a piece ready ” by” Bai Yun, but another time.

  23. Colette says:


    The character/word ” mei” , depending on the circumstances, can either mean beautiful or beauty.

    Mei Guo (Beautiful Country) — this is what the Chinese call the United States, hence Hua Mei’s name meaning ” China/USA” and ” magnificent beautiful” , and Mei Sheng’s name meaning ” Born in the USA” and ” beautiful life” .

    From what I know, in context to Mei Lan’s name, the ” Mei” part stands for the ” beauty” part, not America. The ” Lan” refers to Atlanta (rendered in phonetic Mandarin as ” Ya-te-lan-da” ).

  24. Dude says:

    #10 (Vickie)

    Mei = beautiful or a-ME-rica (America)

    Lan = At -LAN-ta

  25. Margaret says:

    Collette and Dude thanks for the clarification of Mandarin translations. It is always interesting to see how zoos in collaboration with Chengdu and Wolong come up with names that are meaningful in English and Manadarin Chinese. They are all wonderful names for the fabulous and blessed Pandas who get the name.

    P Wong, we are all excitedly waiting for the piece ” by” Bai Yun. It would be wonderful to have it with the great Christmas Eve story from Pamela G.

    What a fabulous Christmas these blogs are bringing. May the joy of the season be with all of you and especially these wonderful animals that are being so well cared for in the US of A.

  26. Jo Schulte says:

    I am wondering if it is panda custom to sleep with the front paws and ” arms” over the eyes??? I notice this in the San Diego ” loves,” as well as the Atlanta girls, and the Washington Boys??? Jo Schulte

  27. Cheryl says:

    P Wong – please don’t keep us waiting long. Maybe Bai is planning a New Year’s Eve celebration she would like to tell us about?

  28. P Wong says:

    Conversation with Bai Yun #1

    Tourist: Hello Madame Bai Yun.

    Bai Yun: Hello Mr. Tourist.

    T: Now what are you doing? Those are colorful threads.

    B: I am embroidering.

    T: Embroidering?

    B: Yes. This will be a Christmas present to Gao Gao.

    T: I didn’t know Gao Gao likes embroidery.

    B: Well, the ancient Chinese men used to carry embroidered money purses.

    T: So Gao Gao came into an inheritance?

    B: Well, I can’t say that. But I will sing him a song…

    (Bai Yun sings Chinese song ” The Embroidered Purse,” loosely translated by P Wong)

    As the days pass from first through fifteenth of First Lunar Month,

    The fifteenth brings a full lofty moon.

    Then blows spring breezes

    On swaying willow branches.

    Third Lunar Month peach trees blossom.

    As my love sends missives,

    They come and they go

    Requesting a purse embroidered.

    Firstly I embroider a sailing boat.

    Whatever its meaning, O Love, you may guess.

    Secondly I embroider a pair of lovebirds lingering at river edge.

    You lean upon me, I rest upon you, never to part ever.

    My love is a youthful young man,

    Litter Sister is a flower just blossomed.

    When you receive this embroidered purse,

    O Love, please hurry and return home soon.

    T: Splendid! What a nice Christmas present.

    B: Wow! Merry Christmas everybody! Happy New Year!

    T: Merry Christmas to all and a Happy New Year.

  29. Carole says:

    Kay, thank you for your commentary about these gorgeous animals. Mei Sheng will always be my first love and favorite. Please know that I would hand feed him apples all day. All you have to do is call.

  30. Pamela G says:

    How lovely, P Wong! So sweet that Bai would make Gao Gao a traditional present, and the song is beautiful!

    You know, I’ve always thought of Bai and Gao as a little more traditional and formal, as they were both born in China and ‘know’ more about their native heritage, language, and customs. Thank you for manifesting that so wonderfully!

    Peace, love, and joy to you, to all of the great people who come together on these blogs, and to the incredible Panda Team. I wish the very best to you all for Christmas and in the New Year.


  31. barbara says:

    Pamela G I read your poem to my grandchildren and they were like in a trance. they watch animal planet and the cams at all the zoos at home so they can tell me what they saw. They also are growing up with a love for pandas and what they mean to the world. I truly believe that our children are our future. Peace, Love and Joy to everyone including our bears.

  32. Lisa Anderson says:

    P. Wong, that is indeed a lovely song and present from Bai Yun to her man Gao Gao. You perfectly expressed the longing for him that I imagine she must feel! Happy Holidays and may your new year be blessed.

  33. Margaret says:

    P. Wong what a wonderful song for Bai Yun to sing to Gao Gao. May the 3rd month of the new year find them able to renew their romance and hopefully produce a new sibling for Mei Sheng and Su Lin!

    Happy Holidays everyone, may the new year bring more good news about baby pandas at 3 of 4 USA zoos with visiting Pandas. Little Mei Lan will have to keep us all entertained as Mei Sheng and Tai Shan travel to their China Panda home where ” beautiful Panda girls” await them.

  34. Margaret says:

    The comments about Mei Sheng’s ” neediness” make me wonder how such a young panda would fair in the wild.

    If a mother panda must spend her full time searching for 20-40 pounds of bamboo per day for herself, how would she have time to find enough for her youngster to eat its needed amount as well? How would she be able to deal with a cub that needed to be close to her all the time? Since both Mei and Tai seem to be ” glued” to their mothers with a bungee cord, how would such mothers in the wild be able to force the young bears to learn to find their own bamboo and then to eat it and stop clinging to their mother? Plus, she would have to watch for danger and predators. It is a good thing that pandas have few predators, as they spend most of their awake hours searching for or eating bamboo. Leaves little time for play like the USA-born male cubs seem to want to do.

  35. Virgil says:

    Kay, I was laughing about how the pandas like attention. Sounds like some kids I have seen and some I watched as a parent. It is funny that animals like the pandas need attention and understanding. Keep up the gret work that you do and keep the information coming. It seems there is something new to learn in this world.

  36. Zhen Zhen girl says:

    I love the panda claws stories,I hope to see one this year.