Food, toys help pandas adapt to new home

Animals born overseas gain huge popularity; they should be returned when they turn 2

A panda was sitting quietly on a raised metal platform when a keeper unlocked the door leading to his enclosure at the Dujiangyan base of China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Sichuan province.

When a man in charge of animal care offered him a bamboo shoot, he became restless.

He chewed and tried to retrieve the shoot with one claw after it fell down, and got trapped under the platform.

“He is Tai Shan, a panda born in the United States in 2005 and returned in 2012,” said Wei Min, the man feeding him the bamboo shoot.

Statistics show the center had 285 pandas, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the world’s captive panda population, at the end of last year.

It started loaning pandas to other countries and regions in 1996.

These pandas have given birth to 19 cubs there. Fifteen have returned to the center, said Wang Lun, an official in charge of the 51-hectare Dujiangyan base.

While Tai Shan, who charmed millions of Americans during his stay at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington for four and a half years, has adapted well to his new home in China, Xiao Liwu, a 7-year-old male panda who returned with his mother Bai Yun from the San Diego Zoo in the US on May 16, is gradually adapting to the base.

Born in the San Diego Zoo in July 2012, Xiao Liwu was fed biscuits made by a US-based company.

The US zoo also sent to the Dujiangyan base two bags of biscuits, each weighing about 5 kilograms, said Zou Wenyong, a young keeper in charge of Xiao Liwu.

“To make him adapt to buns in the Dujiangyan base, I reduced his daily intake of biscuits. I give him 800 grams of buns made from soybean, rice, eggs, salt and calcium each day,” said Zou, who has worked in the base for five years since his graduation from Sichuan Agricultural University.

“The biscuit he had in the US is hard, while the bun is soft,” he said.

According to Wang, Xiao Liwu took one week to get used to the bun at his new home, while Bai Yun adapted to it from the second day after her return.

Born in the center’s base at the Wolong National Nature Reserve in Wenchuan county in 1991, Bai Yun went to the San Diego Zoo in 1996, where she gave birth to four male and two female cubs. All the cubs have since returned to the center. “As a panda born at the center, Bai Yun could adapt to it (bun) more quickly,” Wang said.

Bao Bao, a female panda born in the US in 2013, returned to the base in 2017.

“Bao Bao had honey on her buns for one month before she got used to the bun,” said Zou, her keeper. While food has proved most important in helping a cub born overseas adjust to the new environment, toys are helpful.

Some returned cubs play with four to five types of plastic balls they have played with in countries where they were born.

Under the agreement for global giant panda preservation, pandas born overseas belong to China and they should be returned to the country when they turn 2.

China agreed to extend Tai Shan’s term in the US because of his huge popularity there.

“Xiao Liwu returned late because he had been in poor health,” Wang said.

In addition to the four cubs that have returned, visitors to the Dujiangyan base can see 34 other pandas aged 1 to 28, he said.

The base is located adjacent to Mount Qingcheng, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The facility gets about 4,000 visitors on a busy day, said Wang.

Last year, as many as 100,000 people visited the 100-hectare Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding – home to 184 pandas – in Chengdu, the provincial capital, on a holiday.

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