Su Lin’s Training Begins

Posted at 10:59 am December 26, 2006 by Panda Team

Over the last several months, the keepers here at the Giant Panda Research Station at the San Diego Zoo have noticed some significant changes with our young Su Lin. Primarily, she doesn’t seem so young and small anymore! During her first year of life, Su Lin spent the majority of her time resting the days away in one of her favorite trees. Now, she still does enjoy many long naps in the branches, but she has also gained quite a bit more curiosity as to what is happening down on the ground. Most mornings she is now down and waiting for keepers right alongside mom. She will also venture down several more times throughout the day and spend more time investigating things.

Nursing sessions with mom have become few and far between. Although we still observe an occasional session, Su Lin has started to eat like an adult. As far as bamboo goes, she is sharing in the amount we offer her mother, Bai Yun. However, when it comes to leaf eater biscuits, she is eating her very own diet of 7 ounces (200 grams) per day. This newfound interest in biscuits has also allowed the keepers to begin developing a training program with Su Lin.

A proper training program needs to have some type of positive reward for an animal. With the adult bears, we use non-bamboo food items for reward. For Su Lin, since she really enjoys the biscuits, we have been able to use that as her reward. We began training with her by introducing her to the clicker. The clicker is just a tool we use to tell the animal that they did something correct and a reward is coming. When we first started with this, we used every moment that Su Lin was down to click the clicker and then give her a biscuit. Su Lin is a very bright student and learned quickly that keeper + clicker = biscuits.

We have since been able to advance our training a little bit and start to teach Su Lin some of the management behaviors she will need to know. She is rewarded when she shifts in and out of the bedroom with mom, when she follows keepers, and when she sits on the weight scale. These are all behaviors that Su Lin will need to develop as she gets older (and bigger!) and keepers will not be able to work hands-on with her anymore. In fact, through training we have now been able to get a weight on Su Lin almost every day and as of this morning, she weighed in at 31.8 kg.

As the months progress, we will continue to watch Su Lin’s food consumption and increase it as necessary. In addition, we will also continue our training work with Su Lin to transition her into the weaning process, which is only a few months away.

Posted by the San Diego Zoo’s giant panda keepers.

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14 Responses to “Su Lin’s Training Begins”

  1. ROBIN says:

    Thanks again for the update, but how do you go about starting to wean Su Lin? Does Bai more or less let you know that she is ready to start to wean???

  2. Sayuri says:

    Thank you for the long awaited update on Su Lin’s progress.

    About a week ago at the zoo, I saw Su Lin try to take some bamboo Bai Yun had, but Bai Yun took it away from Su. Su Lin cried. Su Lin grabbed another bamboo and ate some, but she still wanted the bamboo her mom was eating. So, she tried again. That went on several times. It seemed like Bai Yun was setting the boundaries as to what’s hers and what Su Lin can have.

    Su Lin seems to be coming down at the feeding/cleaning time almost every time. She seems to mimic every move Bai Yun makes. Like where to sit and stare at the keepers working in the back to give them clues that it’s time for a meal!

    Su Lin is very careful and a smart girl. She seems to be enjoying her training. I’m looking forward to her progress in the coming months.

  3. Cheryl says:

    I think I now know what it must feel like when parents send their child off to kindergarten… our Su Lin’s not a little baby anymore. I’m glad to know that she’s such a smart girl – I knew she would be. Thanks for the update on Miss Fancy Pants – or maybe I need to start calling her Miss Smarty Pants!

  4. Carole says:

    Thank you for the update on Su Lin as school girl. She is bright like her handsome, charming brother, Mei Sheng.

  5. Valerie Warburton says:

    Hello there,

    It has been such a long time since I was able to come and leave comments, but once again I hope I can stay out of hospital this time for longer periods so I can get back into what I loved doing best – watching Su Lin and Mum especially. I have looked in on the web cam and had many a little laugh and giggle at their antics and watching Su Lin learning and being cheeky, and Mum being a typical Mum and showing Su Lin what is right and what isn’t. Oh, I have missed it all.

    Thank you for all of the information and updates. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to wish you all a Merry Christmas, but I wish you and of course all of the keepers and wonderful animals a Happy New Year.

    Valerie Warburton – UK.

    Moderator’s note: Welcome back, Valerie!

  6. Joy :) says:

    Sometimes when I watch animals being trained I wonder, who is really being trained… the animal or the human? I can imagine Bai Yun telling Su Lin how to get more treats from her trainers with little tricks.

    Bai: Now, dear, if you walk along the fence like this, the human servants bring out the bamboo.

    Su: Oh, I always wondered how the human servants knew when we were ready for breakfast.

    Bai: And if you look bored, the human servants will bring you a container filled with fruits and biscuits.

    Su: I like the biscuits. I need to remember that one.

    Bai: And when they are leading you out of the bedroom, if you act hesitant, the human servants will give you extra treats so you will follow them.

    Su: I should be taking notes.

    Bai: My favorite, though, is when you get on the scale, get down quickly. Then the human servants will give you another treat to get on the scale again. It works every time.

    Su: Oh, you are so smart. Can I have some of your bamboo?

    It’s such a thrill to watch Su Lin grow and move into the next stage of her development. Thanks for sharing the details with all of us. Joy 🙂

  7. Betsy says:

    Joy, you are so right! I have horses and have made the same comments to my friends — my horses certainly have me trained — they must say to each other, ” Betsy is very well trained — every time we [do such and such] she knows to give us a treat” . It’s good to know the Panda keepers are as well-trained as the rest of us lucky ones who are owned by animals.

  8. Cathy B. says:

    Thank you for another wonderful update on the ” Little Princess.”

    Welcome back, Valerie!

    Thanks, Joy, for the entertaining Panda dialogue.

    I wish all the SDZ staff, animals, and Pandaholics a very healthy and Happy New Year!!

  9. barbara says:

    to all our friends at the sdz, a very happy and healthy New Year. Valerie, welcome back. hope good things for you this new year. to my fellow pandaholics, Happy New Year and, like panda claws, whispered hopes for at least three babies this coming year, especially to Memphis.


  10. Margaret in VA says:

    Thanks, Joy, for a wonderful Mother – Daughter ” talk.” I can just picture it now. Since animals communicate mostly by visual cues and inaudible clues, we won’t know for sure how they are communicating and just what ” advice” and ” tips and tricks” moms share with their cubs. All animals must learn their boundaries, and it is fitting that Bai should teach Su when she can have mom’s food and when not. Su must start learning soon how to get her own food. In the wild she would get pretty hungry if she tried to share her mom’s food for much longer.

    I am curious to see how the weaning process goes from this point forward.

    Happy New Year one and all! Welcome back, Valerie!

  11. Lisa Anderson says:

    I am proud of Su Lin… not only is she a beauty, but a brainy one too!

    Everyone here have a safe and happy New Year, and Valerie, great to see you back!

  12. Rita says:

    So cute this afternoon seeing Su Lin struggle with her mom to get the large stalks of bamboo.

  13. Margaret in VA says:

    I noticed that Su Lin appears to be out by herself late tonight. She appears to be playing and possibly eating. This is the latest I have ever seen her outside. I can not see Bai Yun which surprises me, because she has been the last one out when I have previously checked them out at 11:30 PM EST.

  14. Valerie Warburton says:

    Hello again everyone,

    Thank you all so much for the warm welcome back. Thank you also for the giggles reading your input Joy. My mind worked overtime and I pictured their actions and everything they were saying to each other.

    Valerie – UK x