As most everyone knows, our giant pandas are "Ya Ya" and "Le Le." Ya Ya (our female) is 13 and Le Le (our male) is currently 15. They were named before they came to us. Ya Ya's name roughly means Beautiful Girl and Le Le's name means Happy Happy. Ya Ya was born and raised at the Beijing Zoo in China and Le Le was born at the Chongqing Zoo and came here from the Shanghai Zoo. Interesting triva: Ya Ya's mom's name is actually "Le Le" as well!
Le Le's birthday, July 18, 2013
Ya Ya was hand raised and as a result she is a pretty unique panda. She is very talkative and really enjoys keeper interaction, training and enrichment. She is quite skilled at getting food out of her puzzle feeders. She has a great technique of laying back and rolling her enrichment around in the air above her head to get food out. Le Le, on the other hand, is a little more laid back. If his puzzle feeders are too difficult, he'll leave them to go eat more bamboo. However, Le Le is very fond of scent enrichment. Giant pandas frequently do something called self-anointing when they are given certain scents. A favorite form of enrichment for Le Le is when his keepers give him blankets or towels with certain smells on them. He loves to roll around with these and rub them all over his face and body.
Ya Ya's birthday, August 3, 2013
Although pandas have a herbivorous diet, a common misconception is that they also have the anatomy of a herbivore as well. Whereas 99% of a panda's diet is Bamboo, which is a grass, they actually have the digestive system of a carnivore. This makes it especially hard for pandas to draw what little nutrients there are out of the bamboo. That is why pandas spend so much of their day sleeping. Pandas evolved that way millions of years ago to help conserve their energy. And even though pandas are indeed a bear, they are the only bear that is known to exist solely off a vegetarian diet. Unlike other bears, pandas do not hibernate in the winter. They have developed a sixth digit that acts like a thumb. This is unique to pandas and is an extended wrist bone that is called a pseudo-thumb. This enables them to hold things in a fist and makes it easier for them to manipulate and hold the bamboo as they eat. Pandas also vocalize quite differently from other bears. Two of their most common vocalizations are something called a chirp and a bleat. These are just what they sound like. Chirping sounds a lot like a bird chirping and bleating sounds a lot like a goat or a sheep.
Working with these guys is hard work (we feed them over 200 lbs. of Bamboo a day), but it's definitely filled with some amazing moments. There have been several times where the bears will be eating, and then all of a sudden they'll freeze and fall over and fall asleep. Probably one of the cutest things I've ever seen. Also we have big birthday celebrations for these guys every year where we'll decorate their rooms and give them large ice cakes. Last year we decided to take it one step further and have a theme for each party. Le Le's was Batman and Ya Ya had a Hello Kitty party. Le Le's birthday is July 18th and Ya Ya's is August 3rd - themes for this year have yet to be determined! These bears are truly wonderful creatures and are a perfect example of just how amazing evolution can be!
-- Jamie McTyre, zookeeper