Bei Bei: Giant Panda Cub Continues To Thrive

The Smithsonian National Zoo has been releasing updates on giant panda cub Bei Bei since his birth in August, 2015.

As of late March, Bei Bei weighed 37 pounds and continues to grow rapidly. This growth is also occurring cognitively. As Bei Bei grows, he is absorbing a huge amount of information about his surroundings, his family, and the zookeepers who care for them. He is learning valuable skills like climbing with the help of his mother, Mei Xiang. Bei Bei has even begun a few training behaviors.

Firstly, keepers are working with Bei Bei on what’s called recall training. As he grows, it will be important for him to come inside from the outdoor section of the panda habitat on his own when keepers ask him.  This behavior is well known for more seasoned, mature pandas like Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Bao Bao. To initiate this recall behavior, keepers call his name from a short distance. When Bei Bei responds by coming to them, he is rewarded with food.
Keepers have also begun target training.  In animal training, targets can be virtually any object, sometimes even the open palm of the trainer.  For Bei Bei, the target is a small Kong toy on the end of a bamboo stick.  He receives a reward when he touches the target with his nose.  Once this behavior is mastered, trainers will move on to more complex training such as standing when requested, presenting his paws, and opening his mouth.  All of these behaviors are trained for a very important reason.
Zoological animals have the unique ability to offer humans insight into their social behavior, reproduction, and other valuable data.  Animals in human care receive routine heath care, prenatal care, and other various forms of husbandry.  These procedures are easiest when an animal is calm and understands what is happening.  Behaviors like recall and target training help the animal understand what is needed for a medical procedure or checkup, and they know that a reward is coming.
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute have taken huge steps in the conservation of wild giant pandas.  Click here to read more about their remarkable animal care and conservation programs.

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