Panda Updates – Friday, January 29
I hope you all don’t mind that we are posting so much about Jackie lately. But, since he’s new to us, we are still learning about him and seeing new things from him every day. We have mentioned before that Jackie is very active right now, as is expected, being winter and red panda breeding season. He spends most mornings patrolling his habitat and scent-marking everything in his path. Sometimes when he is so lively in the mornings, we can engage him in a play session. However, sometimes he is too busy doing red panda things and ignores us, which is fine, too.
Play is one of the ways that we use to elicit Jackie’s natural behaviors such as lunging, standing on hind legs, batting, biting, and wrestling. Although red pandas are naturally solitary, there are situations where they need to have social skills to communicate and interact with other red pandas effectively. They learn these skills from their mothers and siblings during infancy through social play.
Social play provides many benefits throughout a red panda’s lifetime. It gives them an outlet for excess energy, which is especially important for young animals. Play allows individuals to learn how hard they can bite or swat via feedback from their play partner. Bite inhibition is an essential skill later in life for successful mating interactions. Social play also teaches young pandas how to defend themselves. You can see Jackie rear up on his hind feet in the video. This is a defensive posture and intended to make himself look big and scary. Self-defense is a crucial survival skill. Social play also provides opportunities to use and exercise muscles that may not get used as often during typical daily activities.
When we engage Jackie in social play, we use toys as a substitute for a play partner. We humans are not an appropriate substitute for a play partner because we do not have thick fur to protect us from the strength of his bites, grabs, and swats. Jackie particularly enjoys playing with balls because he can chase them as they roll away and pounce on them when he catches up.
Jackie also finds ways to play by himself. He loves wrestling with the foliage in his habitat! We often see him racing around the habitat on the ground and through the tree and ramps. He’s so quick it is hard to catch him on camera. Taking care of Jackie has definitely been a new learning experience for us all after caring for two older red pandas for the past 12 years.
Be sure to check out a video on Zoo Atlanta’s social networks later today!
Senior Keeper, Carnivores