This is Yukiko. He is the male red panda on exhibit and his name means snow child in Japanese. As our red pandas love the snow the name suits him perfectly. Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? Do you also remember what it was like trying to wake up in the morning? The snooze button was always pressed at least three times and you probably needed some prodding from a parent? Yukiko can relate. Usually, when we try to get him to go outside in the mornings, he is really lazy. He’ll come down from the nest box he was sleeping in and go right to the one below it to try and go back to sleep. He prefers to sleep in his comfy air conditioned nest box, instead of going outside to sleep in the hot summer sun.
Yukiko’s favorite food is apples. We cut them up into long pieces so that he is able to grab them with his paws to eat. He also loves grapes, which can help with motivating him in training or waking up in the mornings.
During the day, once we finally get Yukiko to go outside, you will most likely find him up in the trees, sleeping in the enclosure. Red pandas have very sharp claws which helps them to climb and secure themselves in trees. His positions in the trees may look uncomfortable to us, but Yukiko is the master of finding the comfiest spot in the tree to fall asleep in.
One morning, when I went into Red Panda holding to try to get Yukiko out on exhibit, I found him in his usual nest box with just his head poking out. The moment he saw me, he seemed to roll his eyes and then put his head under his tail to sleep. Knowing this was going to be one of those mornings where Yukiko was going to be difficult to get out, I decided to just start cleaning the nest boxes to give him a little bit of extra sleep. Once I had cleaned out all of the other nest boxes, it was finally time to clean the one Yukiko was in. He, of course, was still trying to sleep. I started to take out the old straw. Yukiko was trying his hardest to stay asleep, but his efforts were in vain. Finally, as I was about to put in clean straw, he decided to get up. He moved (the slowest he could go) outside where his morning apples were waiting.
This is Wei Da, which means ‘great’ or ‘mighty’ in Chinese. She is the Red River Zoo’s female red panda in an off-exhibit area we call “panda breeding”. Red pandas usually only have one or two cubs, but In 2011 Wei Da had triplets! Wei Da is housed in the panda breeding enclosure with our male red panda, Rusty.
Wei da is always in the mood to eat, and because of this she has struggled with her weight. Her favorite foods, like Yukiko, are apples. Just like all red pandas, Wei Da also loves bamboo. In the wild, bamboo is the main staple in red pandas diets. At our zoo, we grow our own bamboo in the carousel for them to eat.
Red pandas make very strange noises that you wouldn’t really expect to come from this type of animal. When red pandas get nervous they will make loud huffing noises through their noses. When they get excited red pandas make twittering noise that sounds almost like a bird.
Every morning, when I go into panda breeding to give them their breakfast, Wei Da is usually sleeping on top of one of the nest boxes. But as soon as I open the door, she is up and ready to eat. Some mornings she gets so impatient and excited that she will make the twittering noise (as heard in the above recording). The first time I heard it, I thought it was a bird, but when she made the noise again, I realized it was Wei Da making the noise!
We like to feed the red pandas on top of their nest boxes. To get Wei Da on top of the nest box we tap the box a couple times and tell her to come up. This usually takes a couple of tries with Wei Da. Instead of climbing onto the nest box to get her food, she would rather stand on her hind legs and dig her very sharp claws into my legs; trying to get the food, which is on the nest box and not in my hand.
Typically we don’t allow the pandas into the keeper area, unless we are doing training with them. Wei Da, however, can be a bit sneaky. One of the first times I was cleaning their holding area, I opened the door and she slipped right past me and headed straight towards her favorite food, bamboo. Once she was out, she had to explore the whole keeper area before going back inside her holding area. Sniffing corners and getting into the closet where the straw is kept, leaving a trail of it behind her as she walked out. I had to call in reinforcements, in the form of my internship supervisor Marcy. She had experienced Wei Da slipping out into the keeper area before and knew exactly what to do. She lured Wei Da back into the holding area with the promise of bamboo and apples.