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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