Keepers lend baby pandas a helping hand
Keeper Diaries - Posted 18 September 2015
In anticipation of the new arrivals, we had set up a number of nest boxes around the enclosure for Tayla to give birth in. We offered her an old wine barrel, a wooden box with a panda flap and a purpose-built panda palace. We also provided her with some straw as nesting material and she gathered up a few sticks herself to make the nest her own.
Older sisters Khusi and Khela were very interested in the new arrivals. As we thought they may interfere with the cubs, the decision was made to keep mother and cubs in a smaller part of the enclosure. It would give Tayla the chance to bond with them but still have visual contact with the rest of her family, and this plan worked a treat. Tayla, being the great mother she is, fed, cleaned and tended to the cubs. She moved them often from nest box to nest box, grabbing them by the scruff like a mother cat.
After Tayla had bonded with her cubs for a month,, we opened up the smaller enclosure so that Khusi, Khela and Chito could meet the cubs nose-to-nose. Tayla was very relaxed about this, but just to be sure we set up infra-red motion detector cameras overnight. It could be seen from the photos next morning that they’d had a lot of fun playing and getting to know each other.
As Tayla was also relaxed with keepers being around the cubs, we were able to weigh them weekly to monitor their progress. It soon became apparent that the female cub was outgrowing her smaller male sibling, so with advice from the vets and drawing on previous hand-rearing experience, we started to feed the male with a milk supplement.
The formula we used was a mixture of puppy/kitten milk and S-26 Gold Infant Formula. We started out small, offering just 1ml twice a day. He was quick to get the hang of it. As we were able to feed him without separating him from his mother and sisters , he could develop and learn naturally how to be a red panda. Supplementary feeding was increased in amount and frequency as he grew. At the height of the supplementary regime, he was taking 24ml of milk three times a day.
At around 4 months old both cubs became increasingly interested in the solid food the adults were given. We diced up cub-size pieces of grape, pear and kiwifruit for them to taste, and not long after they started to investigate bamboo, a staple for red pandas.
Around this time they started to explore the outside world, but not venturing far initially from the safety of the panda palace. It was a scary day for us the first time they followed Mum up the big oak tree. We anticipated there might be a fall, so we piled up leaves to cushion the landing. But they were natural climbers.
The little guy eventually began to lose interest in his milk feeds, becoming more interested in solids and the stimulation of the great outdoors. The feeds were gradually reduced to only two per day, then down to one per day, and on August 20th he received his last feed of formula from the keepers. He is still smaller than his sister, taking after his mother and her petite stature.
CLICK HERE to check out Keeper Kylie's seriously gorgeous video of these little guys from birth to now...