Panda Updates- Thursday, February 8
We wanted to use today’s update to talk a little bit about the pandas’ diets. Bamboo is, of course, the vast majority of their diet. It accounts for around 95% or more of what they eat in a day. This time of year, we are offering sometimes up to 400 pounds of bamboo in a day, or 100 pounds to each of our four bears. But did you know that this isn’t even everything they get in a day? To ensure that the pandas’ nutritional needs are being met, they are offered a prepared diet that consists of several different foods that are determined in cooperation by our Veterinary and Animal Nutrition Teams. They analyze the nutritional makeup of all the foods offered and determine which foods and what amounts of those foods are appropriate for each individual bear. Just in case the pandas are not getting everything they need from the copious amounts of bamboo they are offered, these prepared diets help fill in any potential gaps.
Each of their prepared diets are made up of a combination of leafeater biscuits—which are dry, soy-based biscuits that contain necessary vitamins and minerals—and produce items such as apples, sweet potatoes, and bananas. Lucky for us, the pandas all love each of these diet items. This makes them helpful for us to utilize in many aspects of their routine. We can use their diet items as positive reinforcement in training sessions (it is much easier to give them a piece of apple for completing a behavior correctly than trying to pass them a piece of bamboo). Diet items can be incorporated into different enrichment items to encourage physical or mental stimulation as they have to figure out how to get out their food from what was offered. Each of these items can also be scattered around their habitats, put into bamboo, or placed along their climbing structures to encourage movement and physical activity. It can be great for them to climb up to the tops of their climbing structures, working some critical muscle groups and practicing coordination in search of some of their favorite snacks.
Outside of their daily diets, they can also be offered other foods for different occasions, all of which are still approved by the same teams in certain quantities. In the fall, they may get entire pumpkins (which they almost never eat, but may enjoy batting around and playing with anyway). Pears, mulberry, or honeysuckle branches are some others that they get from time to time. Their most favorite, though, is always sugar cane. They get sugar cane for special occasions such as birthdays, or when we need to give them their monthly preventative medications (they never mind if it is hidden in some delicious sugar cane).
I hope this gave a little insight into all the components that go into keeping our favorite black and white bears healthy and full! Next time you are here or checking on the pandas on PandaCam, see if you can spot any of these foods hidden amongst the bamboo to encourage natural foraging. And, better yet, see if you notice if they were placed somewhere the pandas have to find them or if there is enrichment to be used!
Panda Care Team (pictured, Yang Yang)