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