Panda Updates- Wednesday, August 3
Pandas are bamboo specialists. The word “panda” comes from the Nepalese nigalya ponya, which means “bamboo-eater.” And here at Zoo Atlanta, we have a fantastic team that spends their entire week cutting and bundling bamboo for the pandas to eat. Unfortunately though, that team does not consist of pandas, so though they have received training in identifying bamboo species and their different life stages, the Bamboo Team doesn’t have the same nose for bamboo that a panda does. As you likely know, pandas are carnivore-bodied animals who have transitioned to a diet of bamboo, which is not as nutritionally dense as meat. That means they need to gather as much energy as possible from the bamboo they eat – it must be the cream of the crop! Our hard-working Bamboo Team does an amazing job finding new sites when the pandas let us know they would prefer a different type of bamboo, but some days the pandas simply don’t think that what we’ve brought them is good enough. In those instances, we use the power of positive reinforcement training!
All the giant pandas at Zoo Atlanta are trained to eat bamboo on cue. We do this like we do all our training: through positive reinforcement. We have a hand cue that we present to the pandas that means “Go eat at least one leaf of bamboo,” and if they achieve that, they receive one of their leafeater biscuits. This behavior is a huge boon on the occasional days when the pandas just aren’t into the bamboo we have. If the pandas aren’t eating well on their own, we can spend about 30 minutes asking them to eat bamboo and giving them a leafeater biscuit each time they do. This often jump-starts their eating, and they realize the bamboo was actually pretty good after all. Even if it doesn’t, the Bamboo Team will bring us a new crop of bamboo that afternoon to try again!
Keeper III, Mammals