The Panda Diaries

November 8, 2011 § Leave a comment


Our head of Giant Pandas Alison Maclean has spent the last three weeks getting to know some VIP’s -very important pandas- Tian Tian and Yang Guang.

From panda cake to bamboo treks, Alison’s updates, sent direct to us from Bifengxia Panda Base in China, offered a glimpse into daily life among the pandas.

Fresh from her trip, Alison shared some of her most memorable moments from the time she spent with these remarkable bears and the dedicated keepers who care for them.

“Of course meeting our pair of pandas was a highlight of the trip.  I only spent three weeks with them and while I can’t say I know them inside-out yet, I’ve got an idea of both of their characters.

 “The male Yang Guang really is a gentle giant—very sweet and calm. As I got to know him better he even let me rub his back, something he is quite fond of.  He didn’t feel soft and fluffy though, more like a ball of muscle covered in an oily coat.”

In an update Alison wrote: He has been very gentle when taking all food and today trusted me enough to let me do some of the training where I actually touch him, though this was in a safe and controlled way…..he sits with his back against the bars when feeding and you can rub his back. Scott says it is a great way to build up the bond between keeper and panda………and so the lifetime bond is beginning, it is such an amazing feeling and what a privilege!!”

“The female Tian Tian is more sensitive, a little less easy going than the male, and seemed to notice things a wee bit more. Sometime she’ll train, and sometimes she won’t.”

In an update Alison wrote: “I will work in the kitchen helping to make the panda cake for the many pandas living at the base which will be exciting, though I may need a calculator to divide the amounts they use for the many pandas there, into what we will need for just two. I pass the kitchen area every day and it certainly smells good, I might even taste it!”

 “As I mentioned in one of the updates I sent back, I helped the kitchen make some ever popular panda cake. And yes, I did have a taste. It was very heavy and dense and tasted of linseed oil, but it wasn’t unpleasant.”

“And of course to a panda who eats bamboo every day it must be a bit like living on a diet of Ryvita crackers and then being offered a sugary biscuit! They definitely enjoy it.”

 “I also got up close with some panda babies and was lucky enough to watch a live birth.  The centre was taking a hands-off approach, so we watched in an unobtrusive way through a video feed. It was an amazing opportunity.”

In an update Alison wrote: “Our Head vet Simon arrived, and that very afternoon a female panda at the centre gave birth. They had an idea she was pregnant and had decided to be completely hands off with this female, monitoring her remotely with cameras in her indoor and outdoor areas. Before the birth she made herself a nest outside and lined it with pieces of bamboo and sticks. Simon and I were allowed into the monitor room and we actually saw the birth – a truly incredible experience.”

“Keepers at the centre were so welcoming and even in the short time I was there I made some good friends.”

“Now I’m back I feel ready for them to come. Of course I still have a huge amount to learn but I know I’ll have the support of the keepers and vets who will travel with Tian Tian and Yang Guang.”

You can read Alison’s updates in full at our dedicated Giant Panda website.

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