News from the Fujifilm Giant Panda Habitat

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The Zoo is seeking bamboo donations.

January 15

Today some web cam viewers and Zoo staff saw something we weren't expecting until later this year—an attempt at mating! Mei Xiang has shown some behavioral and hormonal signs that she was nearing estrus, nearly two months earlier than the earliest date she has begun estrus, but her hormone levels have not peaked. Every time our bears do something that surprises us—and when they do what we expect—we learn something new, so we appreciate these opportunities to gain insight into these fascinating animals. We will post more information soon.

Love Taking Photos at the Zoo?
Ask questions, share tips, and get advice from the pros when you take the Photo Challenge. Been to the Zoo and taken photos of our pandas? Enter the Fujifilm Panda Photo Sharing Sweepstakes—your photo could be posted on our website, and you could win a great prize!

Enter Sweepstakes to Win Trip to D.C. and Special Visit With Pandas
Lee Kum Kee, a leading maker of authentic Chinese sauces, has donated $50,000 in support of the Zoo’s giant panda conservation projects in China, and has just launched the “National Zoo Panda Sweepstakes.” Visit the Lee Kum Kee website for your a chance to win a grand-prize trip for four to Washington, D.C., and a special visit with our giant pandas, with accommodations provided by the Hyatt Regency Bethesda.

New Tai Shan Wallpaper Choices Available!
Support the National Zoo's panda conservation efforts, and get lots of Tai Shan wallpaper and a screen saver as thanks for your donation to the Giant Panda Conservation Fund. link toDonate now.

Coming to D.C.? Book a Panda Hotel Package.
If you're looking for a great hotel for yourself, your family, or friends, book accommodations at one of ten area hotels partnering with FONZ. You'll get a fabulous gift box and support giant panda conservation! link toFind out more.

To allow more people to view the cam, sessions are limited to 15 minutes. If you are unable to connect, please try again later.

link to Panda Photo Gallery | link toHelp with cam
Watching giant pandas: The panda cams provide a window into the world of the Zoo's giant pandas—three-year-old Tai Shan, his mother, Mei Xiang, and his father, Tian Tian. If you see two pandas on the cam, you're watching Mei and Tian. At Tai's first exam, he weighed a little less than two pounds. In November, he weighed 160 pounds.
Giant Panda Facts | Get Tai Shan Wallpaper When You Help Us Protect Giant Pandas | Adopt a Giant Panda | Sign up to get panda news from the Zoo.

More Giant Panda cams
Camera II

Giant Panda videos
Tai Shan Exam, September 19, 2005 | Mei Xiang and Tai Shan, October 2, 2005 | Tai Shan Exam, October 31, 2005 | Mei and Tai, November 10, 2005 | Tai Shan’s First Year (Highlights)

December 25

The sunrise was beautiful this morning. The sky went from midnight blue, with the tiniest sliver of a moon, to bold strokes of greys, and oranges added on, at dawn. The pandas are all up and ready for their first bamboo meal, at this time of day. Their anxiety to eat makes for fleet feet when preparing their morning meal. Care must be taken by the keepers in case the morning mist has turned into an icy glaze in the yards. The pandas, even demure Mei Xiang, bulldoze their way out and straight to the first pile they find. Gone are the preferences from a mere month ago. Golden bamboo is delicious again. The pandas also are now requesting their second feeding as early as 10 a.m. After some serious attention to the bamboo it is time to wander and play. Playing in trees is the activity of the season. With their new found energy pandas may be seen playing or wandering just about everywhere now.

This is the time of year that the nutrition department staff has to work extremely hard to keep our shed full of bamboo. They do this on top of all the work it takes to feed all of the other zoo animals. The work load of the keeper staff also increases, not only in distributing the bamboo, but also picking up all of the feces! Pandas digest only 20 to 25 percent of what they consume and can produce up to 40 fibrous, green or yellow (depending on what part of the plant they have eaten) large, baked potato sized droppings. When the pandas shred and eat the culm or stalk, all of the remainder must be cleaned up. Only one look at their beautiful faces contentedly munching bamboo makes our morning, and every morning of the year, like Christmas.

November 26

On these recent cold mornings, the pandas have been very active. They are eager to go outdoors to eat, and then it is time to wander and play. Tian Tian recently spent a morning scent marking after we shifted him into a new enclosure. Mei Xiang then had to scent mark all over ALL of his marks as she passed through the yard. These behaviors will gradually increase over the winter and into spring. On some mornings, the adults do not choose to play and we are left to wonder what is different about those days.

When Tai Shan is rotated, he also explores the other pandas’ scent marks but he does not mark over them yet. He is also very interested in watching the adults at first but then, like the adults, resumes his own solitary routine. His favorite sleeping place in yard one is under the perfectly shaped Douglas fir toward the back of the yard. What a beautiful present he makes! With Tai’s improved attitude and appetite, we are weaning him off all of his medications. Although his bamboo consumption is still low, he is consuming ornamental grasses and all of his biscuits and produce. Tai’s favorite treats are still his fruit, in any presentation, and honey... dripped on any and all enrichment items, if you please.

November 13

Tai Shan is a healthy three-year-old male panda cub that appears to be experiencing what panda researchers and veterinarians have loosely termed the “summer slump.” This is a period, generally during the summer, when pandas decrease their regular bamboo consumption. Weight loss and lethargy may accompany this period. This is not uncommon in giant pandas. To ensure that Tai Shan had no medical cause of his decreased appetite, we recently (on September 23) anesthetized Tai Shan for a full work up. We noticed a moderate inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, and placed Tai Shan on medications. Since then, his attitude and appetite have improved. However, it is not clear whether this is due to the medications or coincides with the end of a seasonal decrease in appetite. A period of improved appetite typically follows the “summer slump.”

We are very fortunate at the National Zoo to have many areas of expertise, and decades of collective experience in giant panda management, spanning fields from behavior and reproduction to health and disease. We also have a close relationship with our Chinese colleagues. Our veterinary and curatorial staffs routinely consult with all members of “our” collaborative panda team—both nationally and internationally—and we are confident that Tai Shan will soon emerge completely from his summer slump and resume his usual appetite.
— Suzan Murray, Chief Veterinarian and Head of the Department of Animal Health at the National Zoo.

November 11

Tai ShanTai Shan has been consuming more bamboo and biscuits since the last update. Similar to last year at this time, he is consuming between 13 and 15 pounds of bamboo daily. During the winter and spring, this amount will increase to 33 to 44 pounds daily. Tai Shan currently weighs 160 pounds. Recently he has been spending a lot of time wandering in his enclosures.

Our large enclosures allow the pandas to wander and establish trails similar to what has been observed in the wild. When the pandas are rotated through all of the enclosures, they have an opportunity to investigate each other's scent marks. Rotation through the yards also allows them to interact at the mesh, mimicking chance encounters along the trails and stands of bamboo in the wild. These interactions are brief, as none of the pandas seems very interested in each other. Tai Shan and Tian Tian had a five-minute interaction at the mesh recently, and Tian sniffed him intently for a few minutes before wandering off. Mei Xiang showed no interest in Tai. After watching the adults for a few more minutes, Tai wandered off to patrol the yard just like Tian.

This is the time of year when testosterone levels begin to rise in male pandas in preparation for breeding season. Tian was observed pacing and scent marking recently, which is an early signal for what lies ahead! After the summer fast, Tian currently weighs in at a svelte 255 pounds. You can almost see his muscles ripple as he powers around the yard.

We collect daily fecal and urine samples from Tai for a study to learn about the onset of puberty and the associated hormonal rise in young male pandas. This has not been documented in pandas as young as Tai Shan. As Tai matures, he is losing interest in playing with toys and is beginning to act more like an adult. If we apply honey to his toys he will interact with them only for the treat. On one recent morning we found Tai’s cage completely wet. Water and snow never lose their power to elicit play! On these cool mornings we've been having lately, all the pandas are beginning to climb and play in the trees again.

Mei Xiang currently weighs in at a total of 241 pounds of beautiful. On these cool early mornings, Tian Tian always solicits play from her. These play sessions are fun to watch and make for fit pandas. Mei does decline Tian’s wishes on some days, foregoing the play session with a moan and a swat, for a much preferred longer nap time.

Six months ago, a magnitude-8.0 earthquake devastated central China’s Sichuan Province—home to 46 giant panda reserves and 75 percent of the estimated 1,600 wild pandas. The Zoo’s giant panda conservation programs in that region continue. Efforts are also underway to rebuild a destroyed breeding facility and assess the impact on panda habitat. Our research efforts recently received a boost through a $50,000 donation by Lee Kum Kee, a leading maker of authentic Chinese sauces. Read the full update.

October 28

The pandas are just beginning to strip the stalks of the bamboo during meal times. This is an indication that we are at the beginning of the seasonal increase in bamboo consumption. Also, during this time of the year the pandas graze on the grasses in their Tian Tian and Mei Xiangenclosures. Grasses, including bamboo, store carbohydrates in their stems or stalks when the weather turns cold. All three pandas are exhibiting these behaviors now.

Pandas are bears whose digestive systems have to process high-fiber bamboo. It is amazing that a bear would ever evolve to eat a diet that it is so ill equipped to consume. The panda's digestive system produces a lot of mucous, which may help to protect their intestinal lining. Interestingly, when our pandas consume less bamboo we frequently see more mucous stool production. On the days when they are going to produce mucous they become very lethargic and go off of their food. This period may sometimes last three or four days. Individual pandas respond differently and there is tremendous variation in the consistency and color of mucous stools. Some may be thick and look like vanilla or caramel pudding (sorry, pudding fans!) while others may be watery or foamy like your favorite soft drink.

We have been monitoring Tai Shan’s food consumption more closely because of his recent diagnosis of an inflammation in his esophagus. It is difficult to determine whether Tai has recently increased his food consumption due to his medications or the time of year, probably a bit of both. During this period of seasonal appetite loss, most adult pandas seem to maintain or lose a small amount of weight. However, there is always individual variation. Tai Shan has lost weight since July, giving him a longer and lankier appearance. Unfortunately, there is not a large data set on seasonal bamboo consumption and growth rate for young pandas. All Tai Shan’s medical evaluations indicate that he is healthy. In addition to his recent physical under anesthesia, positive reinforcement training allows us to examine him and collect blood for evaluation on a regular basis. As he gradually increases his food consumption we expect him to regain weight rapidly.

Here's a graph of the seasonal change in bamboo consumption for Mei Xiang and Tian Tian from 2001, when Mei was about Tai's age.

food intake chart


click toRead previous panda updates.

Giant pandas are black and white bears that live in temperate-zone bamboo forests in central China. Among the best recognized—but rarest—animals in the world, they have come to symbolize endangered species and conservation efforts. As few as 1,600 giant pandas survive in the mountain forests of central China. More than 160 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world; most of these pandas are in China.

Giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are at the National Zoo on a ten-year loan from the China Wildlife Conservation Association. They are the focus of an ambitious research, conservation, and breeding program designed to preserve this endangered species.

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