Monday, November 10, 2003

And the Official Word Is ...

美香 and 添添. I checked the transit slips for Mei Xiang and Tian Tian that are posted in the panda house, and all my scrambling around about their names was misdirected. Mei is 美香 (Mei3 Xiang1, beautiful fragrance) and Tian is 添添 (Tian1 Tian1, more and more).

The bears had a pretty good day yesterday. With the cooler weather, they were spending a lot of time during the day playing, which is good for zoo visitors, but it also meant that Mei was already asleep when my behavior watch shift started, which makes for a pretty boring watch. Luckily she woke up around 5:15 p.m. and was active for about a half hour, eating and exploring.

One thing that can be difficult during such a watch is figuring out the intent of the panda's activity. For example, Mei spent a bit of time shaking, gnawing and sniffing a feeder ball (basically a big, plastic ball with an arm sticking off of it; they were originally designed for apes, but they are a good enrichment for the pandas because it makes them think and work to get biscuits). There are two main options I have for coding the activity -- stationary explore or object play. The problem is figuring out what Mei is trying to do: if she's looking for food or trying to figure something out about the object, then it is stationary explore; if she's tossing it about or moving it in a way that doesn't seem to be looking to elicit food or something, then it might be object play.

In this case, it seemed like Mei was shifting back and forth between play and exploration. Some of the movements were more deliberate, carefully turning the ball and sniffing in each opening; others were more carefree, rolling the ball across her head or bouncing it with all four feet while she was laying on her back.

I had parked at the bottom of the zoo so that I could see the new lionesses (they look like they're fitting in well), but that meant walking back through the zoo in the dark after my panda shift was over. I really like being in the zoo at night: during the summer more animals are actually outside and active in the evening, but I did get to see the camels laying around and the lights were on in the ape house and small mammal house, letting me look in from the main path. Driving back to the zoo entrance, I passed a four-point buck walking alongside the road (the National Zoo is in Rock Creek Park, and there are wild animals -- deer, foxes, raccoons, etc. -- that do wander into the zoo at times).