Giant panda Mei Sheng moved to Wolong, China on November 5, 2007. Lisa Bryant of the San Diego Zoo accompanied him on his journey and is sharing the trip with us through blog installments. See Lisa’s previous blog, Mei Sheng’s Welcome at Wolong.
When Mei Sheng’s welcome ceremony was finished, we took him to the Wolong facility’s hospital where he’d spend the night. He got to come out of the crate and sleep in a bedroom tonight. He left his crate and wandered up the chute to the bedroom where he would stay until the next morning. I slept better that night, I think. Mei Sheng had to make one more trip into the crate to go to the quarantine facility where he and Scott (his Wolong keeper) would become very familiar for the next 30 to 45 days.
Before we left, however, Mei Sheng had an opportunity to walk around in the hospital’s adjacent holding yard, which looked a lot like his exhibit in San Diego. It had grass, a small pool, a cave, and climbing structures. He was a very busy bear. He must have explored and smelled every inch of the enclosure but that was not enough; he then had to go back and scent mark everywhere he had smelled. Best enrichment there is! Walking around out there he looked like a different bear to me. Something in his posture told me he had a sense that he was in a different place. He was indeed a big boy bear.
Alas, it was time for his final trip into the crate. As the door was opened for him, one of the Wolong staff members called me over to assist them. As I walked over to the crate, Mei Sheng made a pass by the crate door and then walked right in like an old pro. I heard one of the reporters comment, “Did you see that? Lisa just walked over to him and he came right toward her.” Truth be told, I believe our boy would have done the same whether I was near or not. He knew the drill by this time.
We drove him in the back of a truck to the quarantine facility about five minutes up the road from the breeding facility. Beyond a locked gate and over the river was a very isolated building with holding pens. Scott asked me how I thought Sheng would like it. I answered him honestly: “With no people or activities around, he’s probably going to be lonely.” “Oh no,” Scott replied. “He’s not going to be alone. I’ll be here with him.” Scott was going to be in quarantine also! He would live at the facility while Sheng was there. That made me feel much better. Now that’s how you get acquainted with someone!
As I leaned on the truck bed, watching Sheng, it all became very final all of a sudden for me. The keepers had said their good-byes the morning he left San Diego. I’ve been with him every day since then. Until now. At this moment it became final. This could be the last time I see this handsome boy that I escorted to and from the den for cub exams days after his birth, this animal I helped carry on and off exhibit when his mother was more interested in her bamboo than her cub (if you know Bai Yun, you know what I mean!) knowing we’d make sure he got where he needed to be. I shouldn’t rightfully call him “my boy” from this point forward. As he sat in his crate with sleepy eyes, obviously enjoying the sunshine, I stroked his paw. A tear rolled down my cheek as I thought how lucky I was to call caring for him and the rest of the pandas my job. What a big part he played in my appreciation and understanding of these special animals. We carried him across the river and released him into his pen. I saw Scott the next day and he said that Sheng had fallen asleep with the enrichment toy that had traveled with him to China from San Diego. Maybe he missed us, too.
Since I’ve been back to San Diego, Scott and I have e-mailed each other a few times. He said Sheng had a little jet lag at first but he was doing well. I know just how he felt! I’m sure we’ll keep in touch and I’ll share updates when I have them with all of you because I know you think of him as often as I do.
Lisa Bryant is a team area lead at the San Diego Zoo.
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