Panda Updates – Friday, July 20
Bamboo is the giant panda’s primary food, but they don’t just eat any old bamboo. Pandas are very selective about the type and parts of the bamboo that they eat. Because they have to put so much effort into processing bamboo (breaking, stripping, peeling, etc), the giant pandas only eat the most nutritious bamboo. They can’t afford to burn up all of the calories they obtain from the bamboo just by eating it. Pandas are able to determine the nutrition level of the bamboo just by smelling it. When pandas sit down to eat, they sniff each piece of bamboo to decide if it is worth eating or not. As they are eating, they will periodically, smell the bamboo again to make sure it is still nutritious enough to continue eating. We are having one of those weeks where the pandas aren’t super excited about the bamboo on offer. It’s not too uncommon, especially in the summer months, for the pandas to dislike the bamboo. When we have bamboo that the pandas are not eating well, we are able to use positive reinforcement training to help them eat better. Just like any other behavior we ask of them, if they complete the behavior (i.e., eat bamboo), they receive a leafeater biscuit or a piece of produce as reinforcement. The pandas will often eat an entire meal of bamboo, which they otherwise wouldn’t have touched, during a training session. Why would the training make a difference if the bamboo is sub-par? I believe it works for two reasons: 1) reinforcing a behavior, by definition, means that the behavior will increase if reinforced, and 2) the biscuits and produce likely make up some of the nutritional deficits of the bamboo.
Senior Keeper, Carnivores