|"I'm making a mess of myself but I don't care, this stuff is delicious"|
The babies were having fun in the "panda kindergarten" where Mao Mao, the ultimate mother has been chosen to stay with and nurture them as they grow. Certain panda Moms shine, and apparently Mao Mao is such a Mom so she has been responsible for this group of babies with help from the keepers.
|This little rascal was all over Mao Mao and wouldn't give her a moment's peace. Ahh...a Mom's work is never done.|
|A couple times she looked irritated with the constant energy of the baby, but in the end the bear hug says it all.|
When we went to the panda holding experience, we got to see a video of one of the newborn babies and feel an item of similar weight. They are basically like tiny little rats when born and very helpless. About 50% of the births are twins and in the wild, the mother must choose one baby to raise as she cannot possibly keep both alive. In the breeding center, it's a combination of surrogate Moms like Mao Mao who excel at nurturing and the keepers assisting to nurse the babies in to their teen years and then in to adulthood when they are primarily solitary animals (in the wild, they rarely come in to contact other than the one time/year during breeding season).
In the wild, they spend almost all their time in the process of eating (foraging for bamboo and then eating it) and sleep the remainder of the time. Bamboo provides little energy for them and requires a lot of energy to digest so they're in a constant cycle of finding food, eating and resting. In the center, they get a more varied diet and of course, don't have to hunt for their food. So, life is a tough mixture of eating, playing and sleeping. And they are professional sleepers:
|This tree looks like a great place for a nap.|
|Bet you can't do this...zzzz...|
|"This time I'm really going to do it."|
|"Look at me!"|
|"Well, this isn't working out so well..."|
|Panda rear end|
|We decided against disturbing his nap.|
|Whatcha lookin at?|
Each morning, a select group (actually 3 small groups of about 10 each) get to hold a baby panda. You give a fairly hefty donation fee for a couple minutes with the panda on your lap and accompanying photos (and various swag such as sweatshirts, frame, DVD). The experience has been in such high demand, they have exponentially raised the donation fee as they cannot really handle more demand. For me, it was so worth the money (we actually both decided to do it once there--it is one of those once in a lifetime experiences, though I'd go back again)!
They give you a little educational presentation about the pandas before you go in to the sunshine nursery. There you go through the motions of "preparing their food" by splitting some bamboo stalks (more a photo opp and way of organizing the timing of the various groups) before donning your protective gear. You get suited up in your blue gown, booties and gloves to protect the pandas from your nasty human germs...and the excitement builds. The baby panda is brought in (I was so excited I neglected to ask his or her name...or whether it was a him or her) and one by one each person gets the chance to hold the panda for a couple minutes as everyone snaps photos.
|"Hey there, little fella."|
|"OK, I'll admit he is pretty cute."|
|Then I joined in for some pictures together.|
|Then we had some alone time...|
|Completely enthralled (me with the panda, him w/the bamboo)|
|He's holding tight to his bamboo and me to him, as I prepare to reluctantly pass him along to the next "panda nurse". What a wonderful day!|