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Help support the twin panda cubs and their counterparts in the wild. 

Thanks to a generous gift from EarthCam, fans all over the world can continue to enjoy watching Zoo Atlanta’s giant pandas. PandaCam will be running 24 hours a day.

 

Panda Cam

The members of our giant panda team are the minds behind the movement of the cam during the day, but they usually leave the Zoo by about 5:30 p.m EST. Lights are dimmed in the building at night after everyone goes to bed, and the cam view remains stationary. If Mei Lun and Mei Huan are up playing, you may see them if they wander into view. 

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Zoo Atlanta thanks their panda birthday donors: Richard & Diane Hudson; “Happy Birthday to the two dearest cubs I have ever met.” – Donna; “Happy 1st birthday sweet babies.”- Auntie PattyMI; “Happy Birthday to the two most precious PANDA ladies in the United States of America” – J. Rudolech
 
Find out how you can make a gift in their honor >

 Panda Updates

Friday, September 19
It was just over a year ago that Idgie joined our collection and we brought her over to the muntjac exhibit to introduce her to her new habitat. I was only an intern at that point, but I was so excited to get to work with a new species. I have always been really interested in animal behavior, so I was excited to see how Marvin, our muntjac, and Idgie would acclimate to each other. I was also curious to see how Idgie would react to her new environment, filled with new smells, plants and keepers. As the intern, I was  tasked with watching her from the public viewing area to make sure she didn't seem too overly stressed.  I remember her walking around the exhibit and scent marking every couple of steps. Red panda scent marking is just about the cutest thing! A year later I still enjoy watching Idgie interact with her environment. Unlike our giant pandas, Idgie is a little more unpredictable in her behavior. She doesn't follow a "routine" the way Yang Yang and Lun Lun do, so, I always enjoy visiting her to see what she is up to.

This Saturday, September 20th is International Red Panda Day. Come by and enjoy special activities, a keeper talk, and learn more about the red panda.
Megan M.
Seasonal Keeper

Wednesday, September 17
Lately, Mei Lun has become somewhat difficult to shift. Mei Lun knows what shifting is and how to do it, but she just sometimes has other things she would rather do. For example, yesterday she fell asleep in one of the off-exhibit dens while waiting for the Wild Encounter participants and slept there until after lunch. If she is moving through an area and comes across a stray bamboo leaf or shard, she would rather stop, pick it up, and chew on it than continue on her way. Mei Lun reminds me very much of Mei Lan at this age. She does what she wants, when she wants, and she's never in a hurry about it. 

Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III
 
Monday, September 15
One category of enrichment we use here is called environmental, in which we change up something in the animals' environments, whether it is moving a log or adding a new place to sit or even a bed of hay. Also part of environmental enrichment is browse. Browse is any part of an edible plant that isn't normally in their existing habitat. The other day we offered the giant pandas mulberry browse, a common plant on Zoo grounds. Lun Lun, as expected, did nothing with it. It is not bamboo so therefore deserves no attention. The cubs both manipulated it around a bunch and gnawed on it a bit to discover what it was. But after this "discovery" session, they dropped their pieces and ignored them the rest of the day. Yang Yang, on the other hand, actually ate his piece. Imagine Yang, the panda who sometimes refuses biscuits from a new biscuit bag because they are slightly different from the old batch, actually eating something that isn't bamboo. It was quite surprising the first time it happened, especially because giant pandas are such specialists when it comes to their diets. When he was eating it, he tried to culm it like the bamboo and peel off the outer bark layer. However, it did not quite cooperate like the bamboo and just break off. Because the bark is softer, the strip just kept going as far as his arms would stretch. He finally just peeled it like we would a banana and ate it that way. They constantly find new ways to surprise us.
Shauna D.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Thursday, September 11
You may know that we offer daily enrichment to all our animals housed at the Zoo, and this enrichment can be stimulating environmentally, manipulatively, or socially. We also offer food enrichment and enrichment to stimulate their senses. Yesterday was manipulative enrichment, so I went into our enrichment shed in search of something to offer Lun Lun and Yang Yang. While our pandas love to be hand-fed, we often try to give them something that will make them work a bit for their food, as they would in the wild. I got a green ball with holes out for Yang Yang and put some wood-wool inside. I then added a few of his biscuits and a whole banana. It was a lighter ball, so Yang sat down and held it above his head and let the biscuits fall straight into his mouth. The banana proved more difficult, so he started throwing the ball around the den trying to make sure he got every last bite.

I found a toy to put Lun Lun's biscuits in, and I was super-excited because it was an enrichment item I had not seen before. It was an old piece of dried-up bamboo culm on a screw, and it attached to another plank of wood. This feeding device is meant to be attached to the mesh in a den and acts sort of like a pinwheel. Either end of the culm had holes drilled into it, so when the panda spun the culm the biscuits would fall out. I gave it to Lun Lun when I offered her her overnight bamboo, and she immediately and effortlessly ripped the culm to pieces instead of spinning it as I imagined she would. RIP spinning feeder toy. I guess tearing it apart was easier than having the biscuits fall out. It did not even cross my mind that Lun would break this device, as I assumed keepers had used it with her before. It just goes to show how strong these bears really are. 
Megan M.
Seasonal Keeper

Wednesday, September 10
Yang Yang turned 17 yesterday! Our big boy got to celebrate his big day with the usual fanfare of devoted fans, a hand-painted box with treats and an original ice cake designed by his keepers. Yang Yang loves to play with big blocks of ice, so this was the inspiration behind the cake design this year. It wasn't nearly as complex as cakes I've constructed in the past, but he loved it just the same! The cake was made of 15 frozen blocks of ice: nine on the bottom tier, four for the middle tier and one large block of ice filled with diluted apple juice and sugarcane. The other blocks all had different food coloring inside. In typical Yang style, he quickly knocked off all of the tiers and then systematically started destroying everything. We had also drizzled cinnamon over the entire cake, and once he got a whiff of the cinnamon he proceeded to roll around and on the colored ice blocks. And, of course, this resulted in a multicolored panda! The food coloring will wear off soon enough, but for a day or so, we'll have a colorful boy in the building. I hope everyone was able to tune into PandaCam and watch!
Jen W.
Keeper II, Carnivores

Monday, September 8
The cubs' different personalities definitely show during training sessions. Each primary panda keeper has a list of assigned behaviors to train the cubs. The behavior I am working on at the moment is "Up," in which the pandas put their front paws on the mesh in the indoor holding space so that we can get a look at their bellies and paws. When training the cubs, we train them separately from the other two, Lun and the other cub, in order to prevent competition between them. When Mei Lun is being trained, she is like a typical cub. Everything is entertaining other than the trainer. The bamboo that she has had access to the entire night is suddenly amazing. I will ask for a behavior, and when she does it, she will get rewarded with a biscuit, will then go to gnawing on a piece of bamboo for a minute, and will then come back for another behavior, and so on. So training with Mei Lun takes a while. When training with Mei Huan, on the other hand, she is great. She is usually very focused on the trainer and does not take many bamboo breaks, if at all. Training sessions with Mei Huan are usually pretty quick. Of course they are still cubs, so this is not always the case. Sometimes the roles are reversed. But this is what I have noticed of them lately.
Shauna D.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Thursday, September 4
I've always been told that there is nothing wrong with a little sibling rivalry. Do you think this rivalry exists among our animal counterparts? Not only do pandas sleep in the strangest of ways, but our two cubs also have claimed their "spots" up on the structure in either dayroom. Mei Lun has her spot in Dayroom One, and Mei Huan has claimed her spot in Dayroom Two. When the girls are in Dayroom One, Mei Lun likes to sit on the left side of the structure curled up in the perch of the Y-branch. When the girls are in Dayroom Two, Mei Huan likes to sleep on the right side of the structure where two branches sit parallel to the ground. If either cub is in the other's spot, neither will hesitate to wiggle her way and claim her favorite place to nap. I've seen this on multiple occasions. One cub will climb over the other and sit on top of her sister. Every few seconds the cub trying to reclaim her spot will wiggle some more and re-situate herself until the cub in her spot gets the hint and finds another place to sleep.  The girls will usually verbalize as well.  The cub being ousted from her resting spot will usually "chirp" at her sister as if to say "leave me alone." It is always entertaining to see the extent to which they will go to be comfortable in their favorite spots.
Megan M.
Seasonal Keeper

Tuesday, September 2
While summertime can mean fussier pandas being more picky with bamboo, it can also mean more sleep! Yang Yang loves to sleep in during the summer and not wake up until after 8 a.m.  And once he does wake up, he makes all sorts of adorable "morning" noises and yawns as he stretches, scratches, and sleepily peers around while determining if he's ready to get up. Quite often during the summer, the pandas will also take nice, long naps during the day once they've eaten to their hearts’ (or stomachs’) desire. On Monday, the keeper staff went off grounds for lunch, leaving Yang Yang and Lun Lun happily eating fresh bamboo. When we came back about an hour later, Yang was already zonked out (Lun was still stuffing her face). This is typical panda behavior, and lately they've been sleeping until around 2 p.m. But our big boy decided that he was just too comfy and/or too sleepy and slept until 4 p.m.!  Naps have lasted this long before, but it's been quite a while. Once he woke up, and after a few minutes of scratching/grooming, he was quite clear in letting us know he was in need of refueling.
Jen W.
Carnivore Keeper II

Tuesday, August 26
When the pandas are not eating their bamboo very well, we keepers will do what we call a biscuit feeding with them. This means that the pandas get rewarded for getting bamboo with biscuits. Lately, Lun Lun has been very picky with the bamboo, so we have been doing biscuit feedings with her every afternoon. Mei Lun quickly caught on that mom was getting biscuits from the window in the keeper door, so she frequently joins Lun Lun for these feedings. However, this afternoon, Mei Huan wanted in on the action too! So both cubs and Lun Lun participated in a biscuit feeding this afternoon. It was kind of difficult feeding all three together from the keeper window and they kept shoving each other out of the way, but overall it was a lot of fun for me and I think for the pandas, too. 
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III

 

Monday, August 25
The cubs are officially beginning to consume bamboo! We have all begun to take notice of the increased amount of time and energy they put into playing with bamboo these days, and it turns out, for good reason. We have noticed an increase in the bamboo "carnage" left behind when cubs get hold of bamboo. Pieces that are greatly gnawed on but not quite broken. Pieces that have been chewed to bits but are still too tough to consume. And, of course, missing leaves. The last one is a bit tricky as Lun Lun eats leaves as well. However, just the other day while cleaning up, I noticed something different in a cub feces. Bamboo leaves! They have actually started eating and swallowing pieces of bamboo! They grow up so quickly.
Shauna D.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Thursday, August 21
Hello, all! This is my very first update, as I just joined the Zoo Atlanta team last week as a seasonal keeper. My year-long internship with the pandas ended in April, so after three months away from the black-and-whites, it was so exciting to come back and see them. Boy did those cubs grow! I checked in on PandaCam every so often, but seeing them in person after a few months sent a shock to my system. They are still adorable, of course, and so playful these days. The other day, I watched Mei Huan attempt pull-ups on the pole of the spinning Zep barrel in DayRoom 1. Unfortunately, she ended up covered in mulch. I'm sure she will attempt to "PR" next time we give them this enrichment item. I'm glad to be back in pandas, and I am excited to see these munchkins get even bigger. 
Megan M.
Seasonal keeper

Tuesday, August 19
As we've mentioned in previous updates, Mei Lun and Mei Huan are usually pretty crazy in the mornings because they know they're going to get biscuits and a bottle. We use this time as a perfect opportunity to start their training regime. Each of the three primary panda keepers have a list of equally hard and easy behaviors to train the girls to perform. Each behavior is asking for a different body part to be presented, or to ask them to stand up or lie down. Each keeper will be training the same behavior with both girls. The girls are catching on very quickly!

Before we train them, we always offer their bottles. They usually don't calm down until after this. This morning, both girls simultaneously burped really loudly after guzzling down their formula. I think it's the first time I've heard such a loud burp from an animal! These girls continually crack me up as they grow!
 
Speaking of growing, the girls' parents will be celebrating their 17th birthdays really soon!  Lun Lun's birthday is Monday, August 25, and Yang Yang's is Tuesday, September 9. Both will be getting the same type of ice cake, but what it will look like will be a surprise to everyone! Suffice to say they've never gotten a birthday cake like this! Stay tuned for more information on their birthday festivities.
Jen W.
Keeper II, Carnivores

Thursday, August 14
The past two mornings, the cubs have slept in late. Mei Huan did not get up until 9 a.m. this morning! Sleeping later is typical of pandas during the summer months. Yang Yang wakes up late every day right now. However, it is unusual for the cubs to sleep in. They are always eager for their biscuits and formula first thing in the morning. Lun Lun also rarely sleeps in. She is a very busy mom and has too much eating to do!  
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III

Thursday, August 7
I was walking by one of the dens Lun and the girls were in one day and did a double take, as all I saw was a ginormous mass of black-and-white fur. The girls were both nursing, and Lun was lying on her side resting. I snapped a picture because I found it humorous how for a moment I couldn't tell where one bear ended and another began! And it's only going to become more entertaining as the girls continue to grow and nurse. They will nurse until they are weaned from mom at around 1.5 years of age. Fortunately for Lun, as they begin to eat more and more bamboo, they will nurse less frequently.
Jen W.
Keeper II, Carnivores
 
Monday, August 4
The cubs are one step closer to becoming bamboo-eating adults! One of the girls lost a tooth last Monday! We were lucky to find it as it was so tiny, not to mention the fact that many animals just swallow their baby teeth. It must have come out while they were wrestling in the off-exhibit space, or else I don't think we would have noticed it in the mulch. The cubs' deciduous teeth are much smaller than their adult teeth, so this is a necessary step to being able to process the tough bamboo that they will one day consume. And just in case you were wondering, the tooth fairy put some biscuits under their pillows that night.
Shauna D.
Keeper I, Carnivores
 
Tuesday, July 29
I love watching the cubs when they explore and manipulate enrichment items. You never quite know what will happen, even if it's an item they've had several times. Today, I enjoyed watching Mei Huan dangle by her hind feet from the climbing structure as she pulled a hanging jolly ball up into the structure with her. A couple of times, she appeared to intentionally drop it, let it swing for a minute, and then pull it up again. She really seemed to enjoy the workout!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 
Monday, July 28
Some of you may be unaware that the pandas are part of the Carnivore Department here at Zoo Atlanta. Some of us keepers that work with the pandas primarily are also trained to work with the meat-eating mammals at the Zoo and vice versa. I have spent the past week working only with the animals on that side of the department: lions, otters, sun bears, tigers binturong and fossa. I like all of the animals that I work with, but I did miss working with the pandas this week, so I was happy to be working with the pandas again on Saturday. 
 
One nice thing about being away from the panda building for a length of time is coming in first thing in the morning to the sweet smell of bamboo. I can't describe it and it may sound odd, but I really love that smell! Since I have worked with the pandas for so many years, I rarely notice the smells in the building anymore. However, whenever I come back from time away from the panda building, I really enjoy entering the building as the first person there and getting a whiff of all of the panda odors as I did this morning.  
 
It was also good to see the pandas again too, of course! The pandas are always eager to see us in the morning as well because we give them fresh bamboo and biscuits right away. It's a great feeling to really love your job!
Heather Baker Roberts 
Carnivore Keeper III
 
Friday, July 25
Although we’re not there yet, we’ve had some questions about the weaning process for the cubs. We’ll be able to provide more details as we get closer to the time when that will happen, but in the meantime, here’s some general information to tide you over. The earliest known weaning age for wild cubs is 18 months. Therefore, weaning at or after 18 months is recommended for zoo-housed giant pandas. We use a stepwise process of gradual weaning for cubs, which increases the amount of time mother and cub are separated over a period of about two weeks. This process is used to reduce stress in mother and cub, and to try to simulate how weaning is believed to occur in the wild. Weaning is a time of great change for most species, including humans, and so great care is taken to make the process as smooth as possible. Once the cubs are weaned from Lun Lun, they will likely be able to live together for quite some time, although every giant panda reacts to social housing in a different way. We will closely monitor the cubs’ behavior during and after weaning to ensure that they’re adjusting well to their new, more independent lives.
Megan Wilson, PhD
Curator of Mammals
 
Wednesday, July 23
We're always trying to come up with creative enrichment ideas for all of our critters at the Zoo. One theme of enrichment is dubbed "environmental.” With this theme, we are either adding or removing something in their environment, like logs for example. Overnight, Lun and her munchkins usually get one dayroom and access to an off-exhibit den because the kids never want to move during closing routine, and we want to give the three pandas as much room as we can. Tuesday evening, I switched things up and gave them "the loop.” We keepers believe this is the first time any panda has gotten this evening setup. One reason is because we haven't had this few pandas (two groups) in quite a few years, so we have the space! "The loop" consists of Dayroom One, an off-exhibit hallway connected to an off-exhibit den which is connected to a second hallway known as "the squeeze run,” which is connected to Dayroom Two. Whew! To finish off the loop, I opened the shift door that connects both dayrooms. I'm not sure how much fun the girls had, but in theory they had the option to literally run circles around most of the building all night! Both girls were asleep in Dayroom One the next morning, but I did find evidence that at some point overnight someone had been in Dayroom Two (some enrichment toys had been moved about). And in case you're wondering, Yang Yang was quite content having three off-exhibit dens all to himself away from the ruckus. 
Jen W.
Keeper II, Carnivores
 
Tuesday, July 22
It's always nice to have a quiet day in pandas, and I think the dreary weather today contributed to that. We're still in the midst of summer bamboo season, so we're still trying to find the bamboo species the pandas are liking best. Today seemed to be a good day for bamboo, as we were able to find something that both Lun Lun and Yang Yang seemed to enjoy just enough to fill their bellies. Mei Lun and Mei Huan aren't old enough to care about bamboo species yet, but they did spend a lot of time munching on small pieces today!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals
 
Friday, July 18
With this bizarrely cool weather we have had the past couple of days, the pandas have been able to go outside for a few hours in the mornings. It has been a few months since it has been cool enough for the pandas to be comfortable outside so they have been in the indoor air-condition areas only. Thursday morning old pro Lun Lun went straight out to her bamboo. The cubs however, were a little more cautious. Even though they have been in the outdoor habitat before, it has been several months since and they were a little unsure. They both stuck their heads out the shift door to see this unfamiliar area. Mei Huan even stepped outside but stayed close to the door. After about 2 minutes of insecurity, they came back inside to the familiar. After about 20-30 minutes, they worked up the nerve to go back outside. Once out there, they explored the entire yard until they finally settled in their usual sleeping spots, Mei Lun on the top of the structure and Mei Huan at the top of the rock work leading to the moat.
Shauna D.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Wednesday, July 16
It’s now been a couple of months since Xi Lan and Po made the big trip to China. As you recall, both giant pandas did very well during their journey and they were monitored closely by Zoo Atlanta staff. Upon their arrival, it was reported that the two reacted differently to their new surroundings. Specifically, Po was more unsure of her new home, while Xi Lan seemed relatively unfazed.  For those who know Po, this isn’t entirely surprising.  She’s always been a bit reactive to change.  She also developed relationships with the keepers at Zoo Atlanta much more slowly than the other cubs. This sort of difference is very common, just like it would be if two different people went to live in a new country. We’re in regular contact with the staff at the Research Base, and they have an incredible amount of experience with giant pandas.  Po is in great hands! As more details become available about Po’s new life in China (and Xi Lan’s, for that matter), we’ll be sure to pass them along.      
Megan Wilson, PhD
Curator of Mammals

 
Tuesday, July 15
Today was a big day in PandaLand! Our "little" munchkins turn 1 year old! For their big day, the twins got to enjoy their hand-crafted ice cakes and painted present boxes for a little while before Mom came out to check on things.  Each cub got their own 2-tiered birthday cake, which was made out of frozen water with food coloring and bamboo poles.  As a cake topper, each one had a frozen number "1" with bananas inside.  Also, each cake had the girls' initals made out of frozen water with food coloring and vanilla extract. In the painted gift boxes were two brand new jolly balls that the girls love to play with.  
 
I hope everyone enjoyed the festivities! We had a lot of fun watching the girls, trying to wrap our minds around the fact that they're a year old! The keepers' day didn't end there, though.  In the afternoon all three of us primary panda keepers participated in a Google Hangout with Darius, Carson and Layla from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta!  I hope you were able to listen in as the kids, their stuffed pandas, and viewers got to ask us all sorts of questions about the twins!  If you missed it, no worries - we'll have a link up real soon!
Jen W.
Keeper II, Carnivores

Tuesday, July 15 - Happy 1st Birthday Mei Lun and Mei Huan

The Giant Panda Twins Birthday Hangout

Tackling their birthday ice cakes!

 
 
 

Monday, July 14
The cubs had a pre-birthday celebration on Saturday. While their actual birthday is Tuesday, they received a couple hand-painted boxes with a few treats inside. As expected, the cubs were fast asleep when we put the boxes out. Even after several attempts to wake them, the cubs were still asleep, so much to Lun Lun's delight, she received the boxes and all of the treats inside. The cubs didn't notice the box pieces until several hours later when they finally woke up. Mei Huan was the first to get up and explore the boxes. She manipulated the boxes and chewed on them all to discover what they were. After a few more minutes, Mei Lun awoke to discover the boxes. On Tuesday, the cubs will be going on exhibit around 11 a.m., so that way the will be awake to explore their very first ice cakes before they melt.
Shauna 
Keeper I, Carnivores

Friday, July 11
You may have noticed recently that Lun Lun's belly is shaved again. We have been working on ultrasound training with her to practice for an upcoming training demonstration. Obviously, we are not looking for a pregnancy at this time. Lun Lun is such a pro at training, though, she always remembers her behaviors and knows exactly what to do. We usually do not shave Lun Lun's belly when she is nursing, but the cubs don’t seem to mind. It took two training sessions to shave her because her hair had grown so thick! It has been over a year since we have shaved her for an ultrasound. I’m always amazed at the behaviors we are able to train with the pandas. They can really do some advanced things such as the ultrasound and voluntary blood draw. We’re very lucky that the pandas are so smart and food motivated!
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III

Tuesday, July 8
Some days the cubs seem to sleep the day away. Other days the cubs seem to have endless amounts of energy. Today was an "Energizer Bunny" day. We usually keep the cubs inside for a few extra hours on Tuesday mornings because getting them to come back inside for their Wild Encounter is usually a pretty big challenge. Since the cubs were playful this morning, Jen gave them lots of "cub-sized" toys and vanilla scent to keep them enriched and occupied before their visitors arrived.

Both Mei Lun and Mei Huan spent several minutes anointing themselves with the vanilla. By the time they were finished, they both smelled so strongly of vanilla that they decided to anoint themselves with each other! The shenanigans didn't end there though. Mei Huan then decided to carry a small plastic dumbbell toy across the den and climbed up the mesh with it before dropping it to the ground, while Mei Lun was content to lie by the door chewing on a large Kong toy.  
 
Both cubs were attentive to their visitors during their Wild Encounter. After such a busy morning, we expected it to take a little extra time to get the girls into their dayroom. When we were ready to shift them across the building, they had a slow start but quickly decided they needed to barrel through the hallways and dens to get to their final destination for the day. Little did they know what was awaiting them: a fully-stocked dayroom full of lots of fun toys to play with!  
 
We made sure to include some cub favorites, like a piece of the infamous yellow car, a tub, a firehose "octopus,” and a PVC toy. We also included plenty of vanilla and a new item for the girls to interact with – a large barrel with holes drilled in it. This is the first time the cubs have had access to a large, free-moving barrel, and I'm happy to say they seemed to enjoy it as much as we had hoped they would. Mei Huan, being the explorer that she is, quickly found the barrel and climbed on top of it and began head-butting it out of the corner. This barrel, as well as the other enrichment items in the dayroom, were all revisited off and on throughout the day. If you were tuned into PandaCam this morning, we hope you enjoyed watching the fun as much as we did!
Photo by Jen W.
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Monday, July 7
The cubs seem to forget how much bigger Lun Lun is than they are. During play sessions they throw themselves on her and tug on her fur and with a simple swipe of the paw, she knocks them off. She plays along and acts like they are winning and then boom, and they are on the ground. Sometimes if they are bugging her enough, she might even lie on top of them and then they really can't move. To give you an idea of the size difference, this morning Lun Lun was 104.9 kilograms (230.78 pounds); Mei Lun was 27.60 kilograms (60.72 pounds), and Mei Huan was 27.75 kilograms (61.05 pounds). But no worries! She knows how strong she is and she knows how rough she can be with them, and she definitely holds back.
Shauna D.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Thursday, July 3
You may have noticed that Lun Lun and the cubs have been spending some time in one of the dayrooms in the evening.  And some of these times, you may have only seen the cubs in the dayroom. This is because we’ve provided Lun and the cubs access to the dayroom overnight, in addition to their dens. When you only see the cubs, they have chosen to be in one area, while Lun has chosen to be in another. We provide dayroom access overnight for number of reasons, but one is to give some variety to the giant pandas. Dayroom access gives them more and different space overnight, which can be enriching for them. Another reason that we might provide them with access to the dayroom overnight is due to scheduled evening events at the Zoo. The Zoo provides a fantastic event space, with the most interesting backdrop I can imagine- animals! In this case, guests can mix and mingle with each other, and view the giant pandas, after the Zoo closes. The giant pandas generally take these changes in stride, which is why you often see them sleeping!
Megan Wilson, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Monday, June 30
Mei Huan is the ice queen! Our calendar of enrichment items for the pandas varies from special food treats to sensory items such as different scents. On environmental enrichment day, we may offer the pandas things like hay, ice and different types of plant species such as mulberry or Chinese elm. Mei Huan is particularly crazy about ice! After cleaning the dayroom and setting Lun Lun up with her afternoon meal, I threw some ice in a tub and covered it with some minty mouthwash. The cubs were still snoozing on the structure in Dayroom One, so I shook the ice around in the tub to get their attention. The rattling ice awoke them from their peaceful slumber and definitely sparked their interest. Staying true to form, Mei Huan couldn't resist the bucket of ice and climbed down to investigate. Mei Lun decided napping was far cooler than playing with ice. It is really neat to watch the cubs develop their own unique little personalities.
Christina W.
Seasonal Keeper, Pandas

Friday, June 27
This afternoon we had a “Freaky Friday” moment in the panda building. Mei Huan is usually the "difficult" cub when it comes to shifting inside from the dayrooms, and Mei Lun is usually the most reliable. So this afternoon when we decided to shift the cubs inside with Lun Lun to clean the dayroom, we expected the norm: Mei Lun would come straight in with her mom, and Mei Huan would require a little more persuasion.  When we opened the shift door, the cub hot on Lun Lun's heels was Mei Huan!  Of course, she received lots of praise and a few biscuits for shifting so well, but we were also a little shocked.  Where was Mei Lun?  Upon checking the camera, we found that she was still sitting in the hammock chewing on a bamboo leaf,  completely ignoring us. Mei Lun finally decided she was ready to shift inside after a little while, and we were able to finish cleaning the dayroom. Silly cubs!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Wednesday, June 25
We're less than a month from the twins' first birthday! The year has flown by at warp speed. Last year I was on nursery duty with the twins during the other pandas' birthdays, so I missed out on the ice cake building fun. Because of this, Shauna willingly took point and made some awesome birthday cakes for everyone. But as she will also admit, building ice cakes isn't an easy task. It takes more planning than you would imagine, as you have to make sure each layer is properly frozen before you add the next layer. And some layers require freezing bamboo poles, so making sure they don't fall over can be tricky.  All panda cakes are made out of frozen water, with either food coloring or pieces of sugarcane/produce frozen inside. The tiers are made out of bamboo. Therefore, the entire cake is safe and edible.  

Of course I strive for "bigger and better" every year and have already designed the twins' cakes. The design is just a sketch, so the final product may look different depending on how well the water cooperates. But if I want them completed on time I need to start yesterday!  Stay tuned for announcements on when we'll be celebrating the girls' first birthday!   
Jen W.
Keeper II, Carnivores

Monday, June 23
Saturday evening the cubs were sharing a fresh, leafy piece of bamboo on the structure in one of the dayrooms. After chewing on the bamboo for several minutes, Mei Lun was tired and curled up to sleep on top of the bamboo. Mei Huan was not sleepy yet and wanted to keep eating the bamboo; however, Mei Lun sleeping on the bamboo was problematic. So Mei Huan climbed on top of Mei Lun and pushed her off of the bamboo and continued eating. Mei Lun rolled around on the structure trying to get comfortable again, but Mei Huan was now sitting in her favorite spot. Mei Lun decided to attempt to take back her spot and a brief wrestling match ensued, during which the bamboo fell from the structure. After losing the bamboo, both cubs resumed their usual sleeping spots on the structure and took a long nap.
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III

Friday, June 20
1992: The Cold War was declared officially over. “Melrose Place” made its debut. The final episode of “The Golden Girls” aired. What else happened that year? A research student by the name of Rebecca Snyder, PhD, joined our Zoo family.

No, there were no pandas here yet. At the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeing in China, Rebecca included two females, Bing Bing and Ya Ya, among her subjects in her studies on giant panda maternal behavior. Eight years later, those females’ children, Lun Lun and Yang Yang, arrived in Atlanta to found a family dynasty. The founding part would take awhile, but the rest is history. 
 
She has given us much more than outstanding management of our giant panda program, carnivore program and ultimately mammal program, not to mention her indelible contributions to the world’s body of knowledge of giant panda reproductive and maternal behavior.
 
Rebecca’s scientific contributions are invaluable, but her personal gifts may be those we miss the most. She is a true professional, and her kind, steady and diplomatic demeanor has always ensured that each time she sat down in a meeting, she brought something good to the table. And those of us fortunate enough to have experienced the light of her wonderful sense of humor know that if something’s funny and Rebecca gets to laughing, the funny thing will be 100 times funnier by the time all is said and done. 
 
It’s true that not all zoos have giant pandas. There are four zoos with those. For more than 20 years, we've been the only zoo with a Rebecca Snyder. It’s been a rare gift indeed. 
 
Find out more about her research with giant pandas.

Thursday, June 19
Yesterday, Heather and I were collecting mother-cub behavioral data together, and we were treated to seeing Lun Lun and the twins cram into the hammock together. It was comical to see them all try to fit into the hammock at the same time. It didn’t last long, because I don’t think any of them were really comfortable. The twins tried to nurse while they were all together, but Lun Lun got out of the hammock pretty quickly after they started nursing. Even though that’s a favorite nursing spot for her, it doesn’t work very well anymore for nursing two cubs at once. Mei Lun and Mei Huan are big girls now. They continue to weigh in well above our previous cubs.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Wednesday, June 18
Everything is pretty status quo in PandaLand. The adult pandas are going through the annual summertime "nothing-tastes-good" phase. This is because a lot of the bamboo we harvest is usually on the younger side since most species have spit out new growth in the spring. Bamboo forests are very dense, and the older, more mature stuff in the middle of the forest is very hard for our bamboo techs to reach. This is the bamboo the bears usually enjoy. To compensate, we've been offering many different species to see what they are interested in. Luckily with the annual summertime pickiness, we have started to see Yang Yang and Lun Lun leafing the bamboo a bit more. Soon enough we'll enter the leafing season, which is every panda keeper's favorite time of the year. Why? Cleanup is super easy! Unfortunately, our pandas march to their own tune and don't leaf bamboo for very long, but we enjoy the season however long it lasts!
 
If you're wondering, the twins aren't being picky. They'll chew on any type of bamboo: mature, young, fresh, dried-up-and-crispy, etc.!
Jen W.
Keeper II, Carnivores

Monday, June 16
We do not always use physical features to distinguish Mei Lun and Mei Huan. We can often tell which cub is which just by her behavior or mannerisms. For example, Mei Huan almost always sleeps on the bars of the structure in the dayroom with the hammock and enjoys sleeping on her back. Mei Lun prefers to sleep curled up and in the corner of that structure. Mei Huan loves every toy and will immediately pounce on novel enrichment items, but Mei Lun is more hesitant and lets her sister or mother check out anything new first. Mei Huan is usually the first cub we see first thing in the morning; Mei Lun likes to sleep in. Mei Huan knows her own mind and enjoys her independence, whereas Mei Lun likes to stick close to her mother. The cubs are so different from each other that we almost never mistake one for the other when we use behavioral cues to differentiate them.
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III

Friday, June 13
Yesterday our pandas had a special visitor! One of the National Zoo panda keepers was in Atlanta and stopped by the panda house to meet our pandas. Other panda keepers are few and far between compared to other zookeepers, so it was a nice treat for me as well as for the pandas. Lun Lun and the cubs came inside from the exhibit perfectly when I called them, just to show off their shifting skills! The cubs also showed her how calmly they could behave for biscuits. Yang Yang was too busy eating bamboo to come inside and meet her, but it was still a nice visit.  
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III

Wednesday, June 11
For my last update I wrote about how we need to work with the cubs on some training behaviors. Since then, both cubs have learned to put their paws down before receiving food or before shifing through a door. Pandas are smart and quick learners, so I am not surprised at how quickly the cubs have learned a new behavior. Any behavior that they do and we reinforce with food or attention will be repeated. As keepers, we have to be mindful of what the pandas are doing when we offer food or attention to them so that we do not accidentally reinforce behaviors that are undesirable.
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III

Monday, June 9
Life is real hard if you are a baby panda growing up at Zoo Atlanta. At 7 a.m., the keeper comes in and feeds/weighs you.  Then you get to play around with your sister or Mom while your dayroom or habitat is prepared. After the excitement of the daily morning shifting adventure (because there are so many things to see and corners to sniff!), there's playtime in the freshly set up enclosure with brand-new enrichment. By around 9 or 10 a.m., breakfast has been burned through, so it's time to snooze the afternoon away. Your nap might get momentarily disrupted by refreshing bamboo for Mom Lun Lun. You might even get a treat or two if you come down and shift inside with Mom! Either way, afterwards it's back to that nap! Around mid to late afternoon, you've recharged your batteries and it's time for round two of playtime! Finally in the late afternoon, you come inside for the night and proceed to goof around and power-nap under the watchful eye of Mom until the keeper returns the next morning.
Jen W.
Keeper II, Carnivores

Thursday, June 5
We offer all our animals at the Zoo a wide variety of enrichment. To ensure that we rotate through all enrichment on a regular basis, most departments rotate through select "themes" throughout the month. What the keeper ends up giving is up to them, but having a theme is helpful. The common themes are manipulative, food, environmental, social and sensory. The most difficult theme in my opinion is environmental because that requires a lot creativity. We're either adding or removing something from the animals' habitats, or in other words, changing the environment. A new haybed or a new logpile in a different location are perfect examples.  

Sometimes, we'll throw in a bunch of approved vegetation (nontoxic, of course) to change up the feng shui. On Wednesday, I decided to cut a large piece from a mulberry bush to give to the pandas and our red panda. Mulberry grows like weeds all over Georgia. While most pandas only like to eat bamboo, Yang Yang has a taste for mulberry and can be seen eating it from time to time. Mei Lan, our firstborn cub, enjoyed a type of plant belonging to the Elaeagnus genus. Lun Lun and Mei Lun weren't that impressed with the mulberry I gave them, but much to my surprise, Mei Huan took right after her dad and started munching on the leaves.  I doubt she ingested much if any, but it was still cute to see that she takes after her dad. In hindsight, I'm not really that surprised, because Mei Huan has shown a lot of interest in playing/inspecting/chewing on the variety of vegetation that grows in our outdoor exhibits. While it's common for young pandas to sample different types of vegetation, Mei Huan seems to really enjoy "mowing the yard!”
Jen W.
Keeper II, Carnivores

Wednesday, June 4
As many of you know, one of the Zoo's veterinarians, Dr. Sam, and I recently accompanied Xi Lan and Po on their voyage to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China. The trip was very long. Throughout the entire voyage, Xi Lan and Po were always very relaxed and went about their normal activities of eating bamboo, bamboo shoots and biscuits, followed by a series of nice naps.  That is exactly what we were hoping for.  

They both became a little anxious when we transferred them to their new living quarters at the base, which is completely normal, but they both calmed down within a short time and were both eating and behaving well soon after. I'm sure that they will do just fine over in their homeland.  I met a bunch of the panda keepers, and they are very excited to have both Xi Lan and Po there, and were anxious to begin working with them.  Just how calm both of the pandas were during their trip took Dr. Sam and myself a little off guard, because we were expecting them both to behave a little bit more like their older brother did when he was sent to China.  
 
When Mei Lan traveled to China over three years ago, he wasn’t quite as calm as his younger siblings on his voyage. When he arrived in Chengdu, it took him over a week to really start calming down and start behaving normally. This is also normal behavior for some giant pandas when they are transferred between institutions. One of the reasons the Zoo sends a familiar face along with the pandas is to help with the transition. After that first week, Mei Lan's comfort level and behavior started steadily improving until he was soon acting completely normal.  
 
I bring up Mei Lan because while I was at the base I was able to visit with him several times to see how he was doing now. The panda base has over 80 giant pandas, and with the exception of Xi Lan and Po, they pretty much all looked the same to me. I haven't seen Mei Lan since he left Atlanta, and I was concerned that I would not be able to recognize him when I saw him. When we went to see Mei Lan for the first time, I was unaware that they had kept him off exhibit for me and that there were going to be news cameras rolling to document the reunion. I am not really a big fan of cameras so I began to get a little nervous. I was just hoping that I would be able to pick him out of the crowd, especially if it was all being documented. All of this concern was for naught, however.  
 
When I entered the building, Mei Lan looked up at me, and aside from getting much larger, he hasn't changed a lick. He looked so good, and so big! Not as big as dear old dad yet, but getting there. When I walked in, he was just sitting on the floor covered with the remnants of many bamboo shoots, which he was thoroughly enjoying. Now I just wondered if he would remember me. I called out his name, and he immediately looked up. He then got to his feet, casting the multitude of bamboo shoot remnants off to the side, and came over to where I was kneeling. His current keepers gave me some food for him, and he took it from me just like old times.  I was even able to run through a couple of training behaviors with him successfully. It was just like old times. I was actually surprised that he performed the behaviors I requested, as he doesn't hear many of the commands in English much anymore. I spent a little more time with him, but typical of pandas, when he realized that I didn't have any more food for him, he went back to his large pile of shoots. I was not at all offended by this, as he would have done the same thing even if he had stayed with us in Atlanta. 
 
I sat there for a while longer and just watched him eating. During this time, I had a chance to speak with some of his keepers about how he was doing, and they gave me some exciting news about him. During this year’s breeding season, Mei Lan successfully bred several times. Everyone over there was calling him "the Man," as this really was his first go at it and he performed flawlessly. Maybe he could teach his old man a thing or two. After a while I finally had to leave and see the rest of what the research base had to offer. I did go by his habitat several times over the next couple of days and sat and watched him for a while. I can't believe that little boy, who I was with the day he was born, just may be a daddy himself in the near future. All in all, I just couldn't be happier on how everything turned out with him. It may take a little time, but I am sure that his brother and sister will just as happy.
Kenn H.
Lead Keeper of Carnivores

Monday, June 2
I have been out of the building for a little while now, and I can't believe how big those little girls have become. They are both currently right at 25 kilograms (just over 55 pounds). Aside from their size, you can tell they are getting older by their behavior. While they still sleep a bunch during the day, they have acutally become more active, and you can see them exploring, climbing, or wrestling amongst themselves more often during the day. Lun Lun even likes to jump into the fray every now and again to release a little energy. Today was one of those days where this was evident. The cubs were up numerous times during the day, wrestling with each other in the top of the structure. In between bites of bamboo, Lun Lun would occasionally go over to them and pull one out of the structure and play with her on the ground for a few minutes. Lun Lun would then go back to eating, and the cub would immediately go right back up on the structure and resume the battle with her sister. While they are getting older and stronger, they still are cubs and can only take so much, so after a long hard play bout,  both of them had to take a nice, long power nap. These are the good days.  Enjoy them!
Kenn H.
Lead Keeper of Carnivores

Thursday, May 29
So you've probably heard us talking about red leafeater biscuits off and on. Variations of commercially produced biscuits are offered to many species of animals here at the Zoo. The ones we have been offering the giant pandas for quite some time are red because they contain beet juice, which makes them sweet. At least they taste sweet to pandas. They don’t taste particularly sweet to people. These biscuits are basically a protein/vitamin "cookie.” We use them as a supplement to the pandas’ natural bamboo diet, and thus the biscuits make up a small percentage of the total diet. Recently, we began slowly transitioning the giant pandas to another form of biscuit that is different in appearance, smell, and composition. These biscuits are higher in fiber, and thus more like the giant pandas’ natural diet. But giant pandas are naturally food neophobic (no surprise, because they are feeding specialists!). So, the process of transitioning to new biscuits has been slow because the pandas didn't like the new biscuits at first Also, we're doing the transition slowly so as to not upset their digestive systems.  Lun Lun was suspicious of the new biscuits and took awhile to accept them, whereas the cubs enjoy both types. Yang Yang has been the most resistant. He's just stubborn sometimes! At first he liked them, then he didn't, then we had to "trick" him by offering both a red biscuit and the new brown one at the same time. Now he'll eat the brown biscuits by themselves, but for whatever reason he always rejects the first brown biscuit offered, but will readily eat it later.  He likes to test us, so we must stick to our guns and eventually he'll learn to enjoy the new biscuits as much as the old ones. But I don't blame him for being picky - I'd probably prefer the sweeter biscuits myself!
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Wednesday, May 28
It's time for the girls to learn some manners! During yesterday's Wild Encounter, Lun Lun and both cubs were so eager to get some biscuits, they were pushing and shoving each other out of the way and displaying several "begging" behaviors. It was a little chaotic! Some examples of begging behaviors are putting paws up on or climbing up the enclosure mesh and vocalizing at the keepers. These are behaviors we do not reinforce with attention or food because we do not want to encourage the pandas to do these things. Lun Lun knows better, but she still tries to get away with it. The cubs are still learning. We have all been working with the cubs on training them to put their paws on the floor before they receive a biscuit, but they have not quite mastered this behavior yet. They are doing really well with shifting and getting weighed on the adult panda scale, so we know they will eventually learn this new behavior, too. 
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III

Tuesday, May 27
On Monday, I hung a new enrichment item I made in Dayroom One (the hammock dayroom). It's a large white barrel with holes cut out. A metal pipe runs through the barrel and is attached to the structure where the hammock normally goes. Yang Yang was the first one who got to see the brand-new enrichment. At first he looked at it as he walked into the dayroom, but decided to eat some bamboo before he inspected the mysterious new thing any further. Eventually, he filled his belly with bamboo and decided to check out the barrel. I placed some biscuits inside the barrel. The idea is that the pandas have to spin the barrel on the pipe in order for biscuits to fall through. We call this a "feeder toy.” Yang had a lot of fun spinning and spinning and spinning the barrel before he realized biscuits were flying out of it. After he got all his biscuits, he ignored it and went back to his bamboo.  

After lunch we moved the pandas around so Lun Lun and the twins could see the new item. Lun Lun went straight for her bamboo, ignoring the biscuits I had placed in the barrel. But the twins went straight for the new item! They are just tall enough that if they stand bipedally, they can spin the barrel. After a moment, Mei Huan decided to check out the new enrichment from a different angle. She climbed the structure and then tried to step onto the barrel! I knew this would happen at some point, and it was quite amusing to watch her teeter for a split second before the barrel started to spin and she went sliding right off. After this, both twins discovered the biscuits that had fallen out and proceeded to gobble them all up. I'm not sure Lun Lun got any biscuits, but eventually she went over and manipulated the barrel as well. Her interaction did not last as long, so I suspect there weren't any biscuits left!
Jen W.
Keeper II, Carnivores

Tuesday, May 20
The twins have gotten pretty good about staying outside in the habitats all day when the weather’s cool enough for them to be outdoors. If you remember, they used to never want to go back outside after the 11 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. feeds. Now they are more willing to and shift back outside most days. It's been fun to watch them as they've gotten more comfortable as well. Mei Huan has her little nook on the rockwork going into the moat. Mei Lun likes to perch herself on the highest level of the climbing structure. Mei Huan is a plant/bush destroyer while her sister enjoys following Mom around and sampling the bamboo and shoots Lun Lun is eating. Unless asleep, the cubs almost always follow Mom inside when it's time to service the exhibit. But as in the dayrooms, we're also allowed to go in with them as long as they snooze and don't move.
Jen W.
Keeper II, Carnivores

Monday, May 19
If you read Jen's earlier update on bamboo shoots, you should know quite a bit about them. Yesterday we offered the cubs some very small, skinny shoots to them up on the climbing structure. They seemed to have had a blast chewing on them. I am not sure how much they actually ate and how much they just broke apart and dropped on the ground, but shoots have sparked an interest in both of them. Whether it was the weather or the sugar in the shoots, the cubs were both extra spunky today. During our lunch break, we had fun watching them. Lun Lun was pulling them off the climbing structure and wrestling with them. Then they would get away and start climbing up the structure and stop, deciding to jump off and land on top of Lun Lun. All three of them were wrestling and rolling around with each other for most of our lunch break. It made for a lot of lunchtime laughter in pandas. Hope you were all able to tune in for the fun too.
Mollye N.
Mammals Keeper III

Thursday, May 15
Xi Lan and Po made it safely to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (Chengdu Research Base). They did very well during the long journey. Zoo Atlanta’s Associate Veterinarian, Dr. Sam Rivera, sent us frequent updates throughout the trip. He said Xi Lan and Po ate well and were calm throughout the trip. They experienced one period of turbulence and even this did not seem to bother the pandas. Sam said they continued eating calmly.

Xi Lan and Po are currently completing a routine quarantine period. Xi Lan has settled right in and is eating well. Po is showing some anxious behavior and is not as calm as Xi Lan. Po’s behavior is a normal reaction to such a large change. Furthermore, Po’s behavior in her current situation fits with her personality. She tends to be reactive toward unfamiliar noises and situations. Xi Lan is more easygoing and usually doesn’t react strongly to new situations. It will take Po a little time to adjust, but she will be okay and eventually she will thrive in her new home. The people caring for her are giant panda experts, and they have helped many giant pandas adjust to living at the Chengdu Research Base. Dr. Rivera and Kenn Harwood, Lead Keeper of Carnivores, will keep a close eye on Po and Xi Lan and continue to send us updates.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Wednesday, May 14
It's bamboo shoot season!! I love this time of year. The shoots (young bamboo that pops out of the ground) are full of sugar, water and deliciousness. During this time of year, giant pandas (and red pandas) will gorge themselves on shoots, passing over mature bamboo. The shoots are full of nutrition and fill the pandas up more quickly than bamboo does. We are able to cut shoots from certain behind-the-scenes locations on grounds, so we have a small but decent supply to offer our guys. Our bamboo techs cut some shoots when they harvest bamboo as well, but often they leave the shoots alone to replenish the bamboo forests that we harvest from. Because of all of this, we aren't able to give our pandas nearly as many shoots as they would eat in the wild, but we definitely take advantage of what we are able to gather! The twins instinctively gravitate toward the shoots as well. They chew on pieces as they do with the mature bamboo, but for the most part they leave it alone or use it as a playtoy. This is probably for the best, as Lun Lun probably doesn't want to share her shoots!
Jen W.
Keeper II, Carnivores

Tuesday, May 13
Most of you know that on Monday morning we said goodbye to two of our giant pandas, Xi Lan and Po. I have known and cared for Xi Lan and Po since they were born. This is obviously a bittersweet time for me. I miss Xi Lan and Po, and the panda building feels very strange without them, but I know they will have happy and fullfilled lives at the panda base in Chengdu. I think I find it a little less bittersweet because I travelled to Chengdu with Mei , and I have seen firsthand not only the process of adjustment that he went through, but also the care he received from his Chinese keepers. I know the keepers and staff at the panda base are just as excited that Xi Lan and Po are joining Mei Lan there, and they will be just as loved and cared for as they are here at Zoo Atlanta.  

Xi Lan and Po both entered their crates calmly the morning of the move and ate bamboo shoots while we prepared to load them onto the truck to take them to the airport. We received an update from Dr. Sam Rivera that evening that both Xi Lan and Po were doing well on the plane and eating well! I am sure we will have more updates from Kenn or Sam while they are in Chengdu with Xi Lan and Po and we will pass them on when we can.
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III

Friday, May 9
Many of our panda fans have asked if we ever get updates about Mei Lan from Chengdu. We do receive updates about Mei Lan periodically. He is doing great! He has settled in really well at the Chengdu Research Base, and he is well-known and popular with visitors to the Research Base. Two staff from Zoo Atlanta will accompany Xi Lan and Po to China. The staff members are Dr. Sam Rivera, Associate Veterinarian, and Kenn Harwood, Lead Keeper of Carnivores. Sam and Kenn will see Mei Lan, and they will talk to the keepers and veterinarians at the Research Base who care for Mei Lan. Check back for an update on Mei Lan in a few weeks when Sam and Kenn return from their trip.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals

Wednesday, May 7
Yesterday's excitement was ice. We gave all the pandas a tub of ice for enrichment on Tuesday. Mei Huan had a blast with it. She ran straight for the tub when we let her out. First she tried to sit in it, but as you all know, the cubs are getting pretty big. Somehow she was able to fit her whole body in it and just sat there on top of the ice. Then she got out and dumped the tub sideways, digging her paws through the ice. Eventually she flipped all the ice out. After that, the tub became more exciting than the ice. She started mouthing at the tub and got back in it. Throughout this exciting time for Mei Huan, Mei Lun had a very different reaction. She slowly crept up to Mei Huan playing in the ice, very unsure about it. Then she decided it was safer to go back and hide behind their water bowl until Mei Huan was done. Once their ice excitement was over, they both headed to their favorite places on top of the climbing structure and the ice was left to melt.
Mollye N.
Mammals Keeper III

Tuesday, May 6
Mei Lun and Mei Huan are growing like weeds! Mei Lun now weighs 21.45 kilograms, and Mei Huan weighs 21.56 kilograms. They are usually very close in weight these days; we no longer see a large discrepancy between the two anymore. Both of the cubs really like the leafeater biscuits, and we see them chewing on bamboo more each day. They are not ingesting much bamboo, but it will not be long until they will start eating small amounts. However, Lun Lun's milk continues to be their main source of calories. Mei Lun and Mei Huan are currently our largest cubs so far at this age.
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III
 
Monday, May 5
Preparing one animal for a move across the world is a huge undertaking, let alone preparing two animals! There are a few different sights and smells for the pandas to investigate right now as we work with Xi Lan and Po to prepare them for their upcoming trip to China. One of the things we're working with Xi Lan and Po on is entering a crate. We're fortunate that both Xi Lan and Po are already comfortable entering the "squeeze,” so a crate is only slightly different. 
 
We've mentioned the "squeeze" in previous updates. The squeeze is a cage on wheels that we ask the pandas to pass through regularly, which allows us more direct access to the pandas if needed for veterinary exams. This is historically a fun place for all of our cubs to play in, so both Xi Lan and Po have grown up with lots of experience in this part of the building. Having the pandas use this area frequently means that they are entirely comfortable with it. 
 
The crates that Xi Lan and Po will travel to China in are the same crates that Yang Yang and Lun Lun arrived in in 1999. They're a little smaller than the squeeze and have enclosed walls, which will keep the pandas safe during the moving process. The keepers are spending time with both pandas getting them comfortable with walking through the crate, seeing (and hearing) the doors open and close, and having the doors closed while they sit in the crate. By the time Xi Lan and Po are ready to leave this should be routine, which will make moving day as easy as possible for them.
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Friday, May 2
If you follow the pandas on PandaCam, you’ve probably noticed that it can sometimes be difficult to see them, even when you  know the camera is aimed directly at a panda. One of the reasons for this is that the cameras in the habitats are outside and, not surprisingly, they get dirty.  We do our best to clean the outside of the cameras, but sometimes it takes a bit more than that to keep them clean. When that’s the case, we remove the globes that house the cameras and give them a good scrub. That project is currently on our list, so fairly soon I hope that you see the results of our efforts. One thing we can’t control, though, is the sun.  At certain times of day, the glare from the sun means that we can’t see much on the cameras, particularly in Habitat One. If you tune in and you can’t see a panda, please try back in an hour or so, because the view will probably be better.
Megan Wilson, PhD
Assistant Curator of Mammals

Thursday, May 1
The cubs are quickly learning a new skill: walking on the adult scale to get a biscuit so we can get their weights. All of our pandas are usually weighed twice a day so we can try to keep track of how much they are eating. It is a pretty simple behavior that really just involves them sitting on the scale eating some biscuits. The older ones know when we get there in the morning and when we bring them in at night to at least look at the scale to see if anything is there for them to eat. If there is, they hop up on the scale and eat their biscuits while we record the weight. The cubs start by following mom on the scale. They soon learn that there are generally biscuits there, assuming Lun Lun hasn't scarfed them down yet. After that step we separate them from Lun and they watch us put biscuits on the scale, and then we wait until they get up there and praise them heavily. After that, and this is the step we are on right now, we have each of them in a different den and we shift them into the scale room one at a time and record their weights. Mei Lun does this the way everyone else has. She gets up on the scale and does not get off until there are no more biscuits. Mei Huan, on the other hand, must have youngest child syndrome, because she gets up on the scale, grabs a biscuit, and immediately hops off and goes to her corner to eat in peace. Even if she is the only panda in the room she does this, which makes it a little difficult to grab her weight sometimes.
Shauna D.
Keeper I, Carnivores

Wednesday, April 30
It has been fun watching the little ones attempt to eat bamboo. They seem to really enjoy playing in the bamboo leaves these days. They will sit down with a small stick and look like their mom, attempting to munch on it. Lately keepers have been putting leafy bamboo pieces on the climbing structure for them. The cubs will grab them with all four feet and wave them around. Sometimes they seem as though they are just playing with the pieces, brushing them across their faces. Other times they line the bamboo up with their mouths and look like an adult panda eating bamboo. Right now the bamboo seems more like a toy, as Mei Huan demonstrated today. When no one was paying her any attention, she grabbed as much bamboo as she could on the ground and rolled it on top of her body. Since Lun Lun still didn't seem to notice her, she threw it back off her body and went to jump on her mom. 
Mollye N.
Mammals Keeper III

Friday, April 25
When we prepare to provide fresh bamboo to the pandas throughout the day, the first thing we usually do is check and see what everyone is up to. If the pandas are sleeping or eating and seem content, we'll wait until they're ready before we interrupt them. The pandas are pretty good at predicting when we're getting ready to provide fresh bamboo, and we've gotten really good at predicting when the pandas will be ready either for more food or a change in scenery. So on Friday afternoon when we checked on everyone and started to decide on our plan for the afternoon, we were surprised to find that Yang Yang was sleeping comfortably outside. It was a little warmer outside than the pandas typically prefer, and he'd eaten most of his bamboo from the morning, but Yang Yang was sound asleep in his cave. Since he was content, we weren't in any rush to ask him to get up and come inside. Instead, we waited for him to make the decision that he was ready. After waking up from his nap, Yang found a piece of leftover bamboo and started muching on it. Since he was still content being outside, we decided to give him fresh bamboo and let him stay outside. I think Yang enjoyed his sunny afternoon, since he wasn't ready to come inside until the end of the day!
Jennifer A.
Keeper I, Mammals

Tuesday, April 22
I was able to see Yang Yang in his pool yesterday, which is one of my favorite panda moments. It’s interesting to see any of the giant pandas go into the pools, simply because they don’t do it often. But I think Yang Yang is the cutest. He paddles his paws in the water, lets his back paws float up, and splashes water onto his tummy. He has been doing this since he was a little guy at the Chengdu Research Base. I have a picture I took of him in a pool there when he was around 18 months old. He looks the same, except a lot bigger!

I also like to see this behavior because the scientist in me finds it interesting. It’s clear that one reason giant pandas go into water is to cool off. But I don’t think that’s the only reason. Giant pandas sit and play in water more frequently during the breeding season. They are also more active during the breeding season, and so again sitting in water can be important for cooling if a panda has been walking around a lot like Yang Yang was doing yesterday. But I have observed giant pandas sit and splash in water during the breeding season on chilly days too. A female at the Chengdu Zoo would splash water out of her drinker and roll in it when she was in estrus, but she never did that at any other time. 
 
So, why do pandas do this? I don’t know. One hypothesis is that getting wet makes a panda’s body smell stronger (think of a wet dog). Scent is extremely important to pandas, especially during breeding season. So that hypothesis makes sense to me. Yesterday after Yang Yang climbed out of the pool, he rubbed his body all over the climbing structure. Body rubbing is also a behavior that occurs much more frequently during the breeding season. It’s important for depositing and also picking up scent. Watching Yang Yang body rub after being in the pool supports the idea that spending time in water contributes to scent communication during breeding season. However, this remains an untested hypothesis at this point. It’s another panda mystery, yet to be solved. 
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals
 
Monday, April 21
I was on vacation all of last week, but I am glad I came back to work when I did! Everyone was treated to a pretty rare event: Lun Lun acting like a young subadult! As a mom, she's great at playing with her cub(s), but she rarely "lets loose.”  She's been a little lucky this time around as the twins can entertain each other, which leaves Lun Lun with more time to eat.  
 
Since we've started Arrow (Pseudosasa japonica) bamboo season, the pandas get full bellies more quickly, and this sometimes means more playful behavior. This afternoon was no exception.  Instead of your classic play session, Lun Lun was running around Dayroom 1 like a madwoman!  She wasn't upset – she was being very playful! She would launch herself up onto the structure and push her cubs off the structure, only to launch herself off the structure and chase after them.  She did this repeatedly, not allowing her cubs to "get away.” At one point she barreled into one of her cubs, did an about-face and lumbered across the dayroom and tumbled into the other cub before rolling away and running off.
 
What shocked fellow keeper Shauna and me was when Lun ran away from her cubs and climbed up on top of the drinker and perched there. This is something we see almost exclusively with cubs and subadults. Then she jumped off the drinker and proceeded to blow my mind when she grabbed her paw in her mouth and started shaking her head from side to side. We see this paw-biting-and-shaking behavior from all of the other pandas when they're being very playful, but I've never seen Lun Lun do it!  
 
We all got a glimpse of Lun Lun's younger, rambunctious self, and I'm very glad I was able to see it. Hopefully you were able to as well! I think even the cubs were wondering what had happened to their normally laid-back mom. They definitely enjoyed the play session!
Jen W.
Keeper II, Carnivores
 
Friday, April 18
Yesterday was the day that we worked on the mulch in the giant panda dayrooms. Fortunately, this was a year when we were just adding mulch, instead of completely replacing it, which makes our jobs at lot easier. In addition, because we’ve done this a few times already, things went very smoothly and the giant pandas had fresh mulch in no time. We hope that the giant pandas appreciate our efforts, and we hope that you do as well. The new mulch sure looks nice!
 
Now, if I’m completely honest, I need to admit that I wasn’t a part of the “we” that added the mulch. I know, it’s unfair for me to write about something when I wasn’t even there! Instead, I was up working routine in the hoofstock barn.  So, instead of hauling fresh mulch into the giant panda dayrooms, I was hauling “other things” from the hoofstock stalls and corrals!  Close enough, right?  And believe me, I was with the giant panda keepers and the horticulture guys in spirit.
Megan Wilson, PhD
Assistant Curator of Mammals
 
Tuesday, April 15
The twins are 9 months old! This is hard for me to believe. The first few weeks of their lives went very slowly because we watched them every minute. But the last few months have flown by. They are now halfway through their period of dependency on their mother. In the next few months, their interest in solid foods will increase. A big change will come when they are about 13 months old. At that age, they will have their permanent teeth, and they will begin feeding on significant amounts of bamboo. They will still nurse but their dependency on Lun Lun’s milk will lessen until they are ready for weaning at 18 months of age. That means they are halfway through their time as cubs. After they are weaned from Lun Lun, they will be referred to as subadults until they are reproductively mature. That will occur at 3.5 to 4.5 years of age. We still have plenty of time to enjoy watching the twins with Lun Lun, but I’m sure the time will pass quickly.
Rebecca Snyder, PhD
Curator of Mammals
 
Monday, April 14
The weather was gorgeous last week! With things finally starting to warm up in Atlanta, we're starting to get out of the "perfect panda weather" that our bears have been enjoying for the last several months. Giant pandas are adapted to living in the cool, humid, mountainous regions of China. This means they have thick fur coats, which help keep them dry and warm. Imagine wearing your heaviest winter coat on a sunny, warm day. Just the thought makes me uncomfortable! This is likely how the pandas will start to feel soon, which means that we'll have to start keeping a closer eye on the temperatures throughout the day. This also means that you won't always be able to see all six of our pandas on exhibit when you visit, as we won't be able to have pandas in the outside habitats if it gets too warm. Please "bear" with us, and know that we're working hard to keep the pandas cool and comfortable!
Jennifer A
Keeper I, Mammals

Friday, April 11
The cubs, as with most young animals, have again shown that they can make anything fun. Today we put a couple of small stalks of bamboo on their spot in the hammock dayroom while they were passed out. Moments later Mei Huan popped up and instantly started chewing on it as if she had never seen bamboo before. She manipulated the piece in her mouth and with her paws for a few minutes until she inevitably dropped it. And after all that fun, it was again naptime. Mei Lun was a little slower to wake up when the piece was placed by her. When she did notice it, she managed to rip a leaf from the main stalk and sat there chewing on it for a good while. She even looked like she was trying to roll the piece in her paw as the older pandas do when they eat leaves. I was not able to see if she actually consumed the leaf or not, but it is not abnormal for them to ingest some small pieces every once in a while. And by the way, their current weights are: Mei Lun: 18.8 kilograms, and Mei Huan: 18.55 kilograms.
Shauna
Keeper I, Carnivores

Friday, April 4
After Spring Break, we’ve got a really fun task on our calendars: working on the mulch in the giant panda dayrooms! When I say that this task is “fun,” I’m being a bit sarcastic, and I’ll explain why. Periodically we remove all of the mulch from each of the dayrooms.  We do this for a variety of reasons, but one reason is because it helps reduce the amount of dust in the building.  Mulch removal needs to be done by hand, because we aren’t able to get large machinery into the area. That means that a large group of us, manned with wheelbarrows, shovels and pitchforks, spend a few hours hauling the old mulch from the dayrooms to the back dock of the building before replacing it with fresh mulch. Obviously we don’t do this with the giant pandas in the dayrooms, so this project needs to be planned carefully around the needs of the animals, as well as the weather. Because we’ve done this a few times, we’ve got it down to a science, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still get filthy doing it! This time around, we’re only doing a partial change and adding some fresh mulch, so we’re getting off easy (a full mulch change is a bit further down the road). I’m sure you’ll hear more about this as the date get closer and once we finally freshen up the mulch. It’s a physical, dirty, tiring job, so it will be on our minds for the next few weeks!
Megan Wilson, PhD
Assistant Curator of Mammals
 
Thursday, April 3
We are often asked how we trained Lun Lun to retrieve her cubs and what cue we use for this behavior. I have discussed this topic before in updates, but will address it here again. We started training Lun Lun this behavior with her first cub, Mei Lan. We trained the behavior like any other behavior using positive reinforcement (the panda is rewarded with something for doing a behavior we want him or her to repeat). We "captured" the retrieval behavior using her natural mothering activities; once Lun Lun started carrying her cubs from place to place, we rewarded her for doing that. We shaped this behavior by only rewarding her for carrying the cub towards us. Then we added the third dimension: Lun Lun only got rewarded if she brought the cub from one area to another area. Lun Lun perfected her method with each cub, and now she is a pro at helping her cubs shift from one area to another. We do not need to use this behavior often, and sometimes it is not appropriate for Lun Lun to retrieve the cubs, but it is a useful cue for Lun Lun to have in her repertoire.
Regarding what cues we use for Lun Lun or any of the pandas for learned behaviors -- that is not something we want to share. We want to avoid anyone other than the panda keepers using the pandas' behavioral cues out of context, such as our guests calling them out to the pandas from the viewing areas. Not only is it confusing for the pandas to hear behavioral cues from unfamiliar voices, but there is no reward along with the verbal cue. The reason our training program works is because firstly, the pandas trust their keepers and secondly, the pandas are rewarded after performing a trained behavior. If an animal is repeatedly asked for a trained behavior with no reinforcement, that behavior can become extinguished (i.e., the panda will stop performing that behavior). Clearly, this is not something we want to happen.
 
We are very proud of our pandas and their training accomplishments. We have worked very hard for many years on establishing a positive relationship with each of the pandas and building up an impressive collection of trained behaviors. These behaviors help us and the veterinary staff take excellent care of the pandas.
Heather R.
Carnivore Keeper III
 
Wednesday, April 2
Today, we placed apples in the pool in Habitat II for Yang Yang to try bobbing for apples. He stretched as far as he could, trying his best not to get wet when reaching for the apples. I am a primary keeper for the meat-eating carnivores, and I only work in the panda world infrequently. I had the great opportunity to carry Mei Lun and Mei Huan from the hallway to a den. The new lion cubs now weigh about 17.5 kilograms, which is very close to the weights of the panda twins. However, the lion cubs are only 5 months old, and the panda twins are 8 months old.
Ryan 
Keeper II
 
 
Tuesday, April 1
If you’ve visited the pandas at the Zoo lately, you might have noticed a new piece of equipment when we’re servicing Dayroom 2 (the one with the teepee structure). With the keeper door open, you can see we’ve recently installed a washer/dryer in the building. This was the best location for the washer/dryer. The panda building is quarantined to prevent, to the best of our abilities, our pandas to being exposed to viruses and other cooties in the outside world. Because of these biosecurity protocols, all staff must immediately change from street clothes upon entering the building. So we keep our uniforms in the building and wash them here.  
 
Washers and dryers are not only a new sound to our pandas, but they have also even noticed its presence when not in use. We’ve been working on desensitizing the bears to the new equipment, and on Tuesday, we had Lun and the twins in Dayroom 2. They were completely unfazed by the washer until it hit the spin cycle. Everyone perked up to the weird noise, and Lun even went over to the keeper window and looked around, but no one seemed overly upset. Lun soon went back to eating, and the girls went back to their afternoon nap. The other bears have been exposed as well, and everyone is tolerating the new noisy white thing pretty well. Even scaredy-pants Po isn’t that scared of it!  It’s kind of funny to watch everyone eye the washer/dryer as they come inside, but pretty soon they’ll ignore it as they do everything else we have in the building.
Jen Webb
Keeper I, Carnivores