Director of Giant Pandas Blog
November 13, 2013 § Leave a comment
I have always said that if you want to see pandas at their most active, then come to the Zoo when it’s cold. In the last couple of weeks, as we all know, the weather has changed from the unusually mild autumn to the more traditionally bright, cold and windy conditions we would normally expect to have at this time of year. A bear species which is found in the mountain bamboo forests in three provinces in Western China, giant pandas are a cold climate adapted species with thick, dense rough fur, so our current weather is perfect for them.
However, it’s this fur and their thick skin beneath it which is proving just a little tricky for our keepers and vets to deal! We’re currently training both Tian Tian and Yang Guang for non-invasive medical checks.
This training involves the pandas sitting in their inside dens, presenting their forearm to the keepers through the bars and onto on a specially designed metal sleeve which the panda must grip in order to be given a food reward for taking the instruction from the keeper. The keepers voice or whistle acts as the bridge between behaviour and reward, and this is called positive reinforcement.
After this behaviour has been learnt, the next stage in the process is to shave part of their fur to expose the skin, thus, hopefully making it easier to see a vein. Eventually, we hope the pandas will allow our vets to insert a needle in their vein in order to get a sample of blood in case in the future a sample is needed to perform various medical tests. This is much less invasive than having to anaesthetise a panda to collect a blood sample.
Pandas are intelligent animals and both Tian Tian and Yang Guang were trained in the past by their keepers in China, so it’s been relatively straight forward for our keepers to retrain them. Tian Tian has been a fraction more easier than Yang Guang though!
The real surprise though has been just how tough their skin is and how tricky it is to find a vein.
We will post a video of the process on our YouTube channel soon, but here are some photos of the pandas undergoing the training for this behaviour. Of course this is not the only behaviour we have been working towards and we will show pictures of others in due course.
I am off to China this week, so will post some information and pictures from there of my trip.