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China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK | FOCUS - Con­tact the writer at willa@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

hours

time the pan­das at Ocean Park spend asleep each day

ing of fruits, veg­eta­bles and high-fiber cook­ies to aid the pan­das’ di­ges­tion. The cook­ies are stuffed into plas­tic balls, chal­leng­ing the pan­das to look for them. “In the wild, gi­ant pan­das use their sense of smell to find food, so we hide the balls to stim­u­late their nat­u­ral be­hav­ior and ac­tively en­cour­age them to for­age,” Le­ung said.

The three pan­das sleep for 12 to 14 hours a day, and dur­ing rest hours they are fed four to five times. “Feed­ing them re­quires dif­fer­ent tricks,” Le­ung said.

Last year, An An who was born in 1986, be­came the sec­ond-old­est male gi­ant panda in cap­tiv­ity. He has ad­vanced arthri­tis and prefers to stay in­doors, where he is treated to room service; ten­der, soft foods, such as shred­ded bam­boo, are placed within easy reach and cooked yam is on the menu when he loses his ap­petite.

An An is treated with medicines that are usu­ally blended with snacks be­tween meals. “Pan­das are sen­si­tive to smell. If they don’t like the smell of the snacks, they won’t touch them,” Le­ung said. High-fiber bis­cuits mixed with fresh fruits add a sugar coat­ing to An An’s med­i­ca­tion.

“Gi­ant pan­das have their own pref­er­ences, which change as they age and with the chang­ing of the sea­sons. We have to ob­serve their re­ac­tions and draw con­clu­sions ev­ery time we pro­vide them with dif­fer­ent drinks,” Le­ung said.

The next gen­er­a­tion

The two younger pan­das bear the re­spon­si­bil­ity of pro­duc­ing the next gen­er­a­tion. Gi­ant pan­das are soli­tary an­i­mals and only come into con­tact dur­ing the peak of their pe­riod of sex­ual re­cep­tiv­ity, which lasts about three days a year. An­other prob­lem is the preg­nancy suc­cess rate of just 30 to 50 per­cent.

The team has spared no ef­forts in try­ing to bring about Hong Kong’s first panda birth. They stash food and toys at higher lev­els in an at­tempt to strengthen Le Le’s hind legs, so they will sup­port his weight when mat­ing. They also place bags that carry the pan­das’ scent in each other’s habi­tats to fa­mil­iar­ize them with each an­other. The panda house was even closed to the pub­lic tem­po­rar­ily in April in the hope of en­cour­ag­ing nat­u­ral mat­ing.

Le­ung was over­joyed by Ying Ying’s suc­cess­ful preg­nancy in May last year, even though he was not her main care­giver at the time. Sadly, 130 days later, Ying Ying had a mis­car­riage.

“It was a very sad mo­ment for me,” Le­ung said. “But the whole an­i­mal team agreed to put sor­row aside be­cause it was even more im­por­tant for us to mon­i­tor her con­di­tion closely dur­ing the re­cov­ery process. The ex­pe­ri­ence was a valu­able les­son that helped us to un­der­stand the things we should em­pha­size when pro­vid­ing care.”

Be­cause pan­das are soli­tary, the train­ers do not ac­tively in­ter­vene in their lives. As a re­sult, Le­ung’s time with the pan­das is lim­ited to daily check­ups and med­i­ca­tion. He makes full use of those few min­utes to talk to the pan­das, ei­ther en­cour­ag­ing them to co­op­er­ate or prais­ing them for fin­ish­ing the check­ups.

“It feels like an ac­com­plish­ment when the pan­das re­spond to me. Words can­not de­scribe how I felt when I re­al­ized that they had learned to rec­og­nize my voice,” he said.

The best thing his job has taught him is pa­tience: “Knowl­edge of pan­das is gained through daily ob­ser­va­tion and in­ter­ac­tion — more haste, less speed. If you take time to watch, to con­cen­trate, you will def­i­nitely achieve some­thing.”

Le Le has a larger

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