Sunday, March 06, 2005

Back to the Zoo

This afternoon was my first time with the pandas in a long, long time. In total, in the six months since Celeste was born, I have done three behavior watch shifts (previously, I did at least two shifts each month). Naturally, I had forgotten a few things.

Which is why I found myself scrambling to remember camera numbers and angles, the grid for describing where the bear is at any given minute in the yard, and some of the codes for various behaviors. I also — for the first four scans — was watching Tian Tian instead of Mei Xiang.

Once that was cleared up, however, things went pretty well except that Mei is coming into estrus and seems to be intent on speeding things up this year. Last year, she wasn't ready until late April, and by then Tian's ardor had pretty much faded. Right now, the erratic behavior is all about Mei — she spend the first 55 minutes of the watch running/walking/pacing throughout the yard, refusing to go in to eat, but not really doing anything but wandering at random and occasionally stopping to mark an area. Tian seemed his usual self, although there were some reports of restlessness on his part earlier in the week, which might be a sign of musth.

Walking through the rest of the zoo, it's still amazing how much work is being done. The first third of the place (from Connecticut Avenue into the park to the elephant house) is pretty heavily torn up with Asia Trail Phase I construction. They are supposed to have it all ready for 2006, but looking at it, that's hard to believe.

The only animals I got a good look at that I usually don't see were the maned wolves (Chrysocyon brachyurus). Every time I've been by their enclosure in the past, they've either been off exhibit or in their little dog houses and all I could see would be their ears. (They have very big ears.) This time, two of them were out and walking around. I was surprised how long and lean their legs are compared to their bodies; the photos I've seen of them didn't really convey that. They looked kind of like giant foxes on stilts.

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