A Little Enrichment

Posted at 1:31 pm February 1, 2007 by Cindy Spiva-Evans

One of my eighth grade Girls In Science (GIS) participants asked, ” Why are we going to pandas again? We go every year. It’s gonna be boring.” Yes, we do go every year, but each time the GIS have visited a scientist at the Giant Panda Research Station we’ve seen and learned something new. This visit proved to be no exception. Divided into two groups, one GIS group connected with Pamela Crowe, who taught them about ethograms and behavioral research, and the other met up with Jessica Hoffman and Angie Fiore, who walked through a training session with Mei Sheng, then led us on a tour through the entire facility.

Any time the GIS get to participate in research that’s going on, we contribute to the vast collection of data that is accumulated and used by panda caregivers all over the world. Ethograms are lists of behaviors that our panda researchers expect to see. The researchers use those lists and stopwatches to document what the bears are doing every minute for up to two hours at a time. Obviously we didn’t have that kind of time to commit, but the data captured was a valid contribution to the information that has already been collected.

The girls who observed the training session obviously couldn’t do any hands-on work with our little bear boy, Mei Sheng, but they did get to observe several different behaviors and learned why he was trained to do those particular ones. Mei Sheng is a very charming panda, and the girls were completely absorbed in the session.

 panda birthing denWhen the keepers were finished, Mei Sheng headed off to his bedroom and his snacks, and we continued on through the facility for a tour. We got to peek through bedroom doors to see Mei Sheng and his dad, Gao Gao, off exhibit and eating their afternoon meals. We also got a good look at the video monitoring system and learned just how many cameras are scattered throughout the bear areas. Something that no one expected to see was Bai Yun’s birthing den (pictured)””it’s really a big, dark cylindrical space with doors on two sides and a couple of cameras built in. Because the space isn’t being used at the moment, we all got to poke our heads right inside to have a look–wow! Keeper Jessica explained how the small side door is used to remove babies for weighing and check-ups when Bai Yun steps out to eat. It will also be used to swap babies in and out if Bai Yun ever gives birth to twins, ensuring that both babies will receive maternal care.

We were duly impressed by all that we got to see, from that birthing den right down to the bamboo refrigerators””who knew we fed so many different kinds of bamboo to our bears?! As always, a special thanks goes out to Pam, Jessica, and Angie for sharing with us their time and their expertise.

On our way back, that same eighth grader said to me, ” That was soooo cool! How come we never got to see the birthing den before?” I responded, ” Well, you know, it’s all about enrichment here at the Zoo. That was a little enrichment for you””we try to keep changing things up, to keep you on your toes, so things never get boring. Did it work?”

You bet!

Cindy Spiva-Evans is an educator at the San Diego Zoo.

Girls In Science is a program for Roosevelt Middle School girls which creates science-based experiences with professional women at the San Diego Zoo. The program is funded through the generosity of the Wells Fargo Foundation.

Read about previous Girls In Science activities.

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

7 Responses to “A Little Enrichment”

  1. Margaret says:

    Thanks, Cindy. Sounds like a great fun and educational time was had by all. Did Mei Sheng know you were watching him? Since he is such a charismatic bear and loves attention, if he knew he had an audience he probably would have been extra good and attentive to his trainer.

    Great response for the 8th grader. She will be on the lookout for more enrichment for the animals and herself in the future.

    Kudos to all. What a fabulous opportunity these girls have to be so close to the animals and to see how things work behind the scenes. They learn that there is much more involved in things that they see than they might imagine.

  2. Marilyn says:

    Those 8th graders are so lucky!

  3. Holly - Upstate NY says:

    Wow, those girls in GIS are very lucky indeed to be in that program! I wish I’d had these opportunities when I was a child. I KNOW my life would have gone in a completely different direction if I had!!

  4. Michelle says:

    I am so jealous! I wish I could see a training session with Mei Sheng. Could one possibly be video taped for his adoring fans to watch?

  5. Susan O says:

    I could watch Mei & his family every day & not get bored! What a wonderful opportunity for the girls. Visiting the pandas is enrichment for them and having an audience is enrichment for Mei Sheng! Thanks, Cindy!

  6. Cindy Spiva-Evans says:

    Mei Sheng did indeed know when we all filed into the back–he was up in a tree peering over the wall at us! When he spotted the keeper heading his direction, he climbed down as quickly as he could to get to the back door! So far as taping a training session…I don’t know. That would be up to the keepers and research staff, but I can ask!

  7. Cheryl says:

    I think all of us can use a little enrichment from time to time – mine just happens to be watching the panda cam and checking in on my furry extended family!