ANY­THING BUT THE BEAR NE­CES­SI­TIES FOR HONG KONG’S PAN­DAS

The an­i­mal train­ers at Ocean Park have learned to be cre­ative to en­sure that their three spe­cial guests re­main on top form. re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK | FOCUS -

From the mo­ment he steps out, you can see he’s a star. Le Le, the 125-kilo male gi­ant panda who pre­sides over the panda house at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park, has a flair for show­man­ship.

He climbs the rock­ery, glides down the gen­tle slopes and ges­tures that he wants to play with his toys; one might think he was born to stand in front of a camera.

In zoo­log­i­cal cir­cles, it’s widely be­lieved that be­hind ev­ery suc­cess­ful panda, there must be a good trainer. But that hardly seems the cor­rect word be­cause Matt Le­ung Ka-lun, a ter­res­trial life-sci­ence su­per­vi­sor, doesn’t con­duct any train­ing. In­stead, he is con­tent to take notes.

While tourists hap­pily snap pho­tos of Le Le eat­ing bam­boo shoots, Le­ung ob­serves just how much the panda eats, which side of his jaw he uses to chew and other im­por­tant clues about his health.

“Ob­ser­va­tion is a pri­or­ity in my job. It plays an im­por­tant role in help­ing to bet­ter at­tend to the pan­das,” he said.

Le­ung pre­vi­ously no­ticed that Ying Ying, Le Le’s fe­male com­pan­ion, only chewed with the left side of her jaw. Af­ter sev­eral ex­am­i­na­tions, the park’s vets dis­cov­ered that the teeth on the right side of her jaw were de­cayed, and set about fix­ing the prob­lem: “To pre­vent fur­ther de­cay and to min­i­mize the im­pact on her diet, we treated the af­fected area with fill­ings. She can now chew on both sides.”

The Hong Kong na­tive has been with the park since 2010, when he re­turned from the United States with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in psy­chol­ogy. His first job was look­ing af­ter An An and Jia Jia, the park’s se­nior pan­das, which were sent as con­ser­va­tion am­bas­sadors by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment to mark the es­tab­lish­ment of the Hong Kong Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion in 1997.

Life­span

The av­er­age life­span for gi­ant pan­das is 14 to 20 years in the wild, and 25 to 30 years in cap­tiv­ity, but Jia Jia was eu­th­a­nized on Oct 16 at the age of 38 — the equiv­a­lent of 114 hu­man years — af­ter her health de­te­ri­o­rated rapidly. At the time, she was the old­est panda in cap­tiv­ity.

“She had been liv­ing with typ­i­cal geri­atric con­di­tions; high blood pres­sure, arthri­tis and cataracts in both eyes,” Le­ung said.

Some­times, Jia Jia re­fused to take her med­i­ca­tion, so Le­ung spent hours at her side, let­ting her play with her fa­vorite toys and gen­tly urg­ing her to take her medicine.

In ad­di­tion to a daily diet of bam­boo, veg­eta­bles and high-fiber bis­cuits to com­ple­ment Jia Jia’s med­i­cal treat­ment, the team in­vented new ways of coax­ing her to take med­i­ca­tion.

“We mixed it with her fa­vorite drinks — soy milk and prune juice — or we fed her pears and ap­ples be­fore the medicine. We called the fruits ‘ap­pe­tiz­ers’,” Le­ung said. “Those were the most mem­o­rable mo­ments, ones I will cher­ish for the rest of my life.”

In Septem­ber, Le­ung be­came the main care­giver for Ying Ying and Le Le, who were pre­sented as a gift to mark the 10th an­niver­sary of Hong Kong’s re­turn to China in 2007. The pan­das were born in 2005, so Le­ung refers to them as “the kids”.

“They are en­er­getic and ad­ven­tur­ous. Ying Ying likes to climb trees and sleep in the high­est branches. We sel­dom trim her claws be­cause she trims them her­self dur­ing her climbs. Le Le is fond of prowl­ing the panda house, play­ing with water and look­ing for toys we hide for him to find,” Le­ung said.

In win­ter, the area around the panda house is cov­ered with ar­ti­fi­cial snow as the park at­tempts to mimic the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment of Sichuan prov­ince, where pan­das orig­i­nate. The tem­per­a­ture is ad­justed to ap­prox­i­mate the Sichuan cli­mate and the train­ers even spray mist and smoke.

Le­ung’s work­ing day be­gins at 8:30 am, when he pre­pares the pan­das’ sta­ple meal of bam­boo shoots. An An con­sumes around 7 kg of bam­boo a day, while the younger pan­das eat about 27 kg be­tween them.

Le­ung also makes snacks con­sist- Pro­files

The pan­das liv­ing at Ocean Park were gifts from the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, brought from the main­land to mark an­niver­saries of the es­tab­lish­ment of the Hong Kong Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion.

Jia Jia Jia Jia was eu­th­a­nized in Oc­to­ber at the age of 38 — equiv­a­lent to 114 hu­man years. She reached near-iconic stature in Hong Kong’s pop­u­lar cul­ture dur­ing the 17 years she spent at the park, and peo­ple still leave bou­quets and cards near a mon­u­ment erected in her memory. Ying Ying and Le Le: The task of pro­duc­ing Hong Kong’s first panda cub rests on the shoul­ders of Ying Ying and Le Le, both age 11, but so far, ef­forts to get them to mate suc­cess­fully have not borne fruit. Ying Ying has been put in the same mat­ing en­clo­sure as Le Le on three oc­ca­sions, but at­tempts to con­ceive failed. Fresh se­men from Le Le and frozen se­men from a panda at the Wo­long Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve, Sichuan prov­ince, was used to ar­ti­fi­cially in­sem­i­nate Ying Ying, who con­ceived in May. There were no clues to in­di­cate the iden­tity of the fa­ther. Ying Ying had a mis­car­riage 130 days into her preg­nancy. Knowl­edge of pan­das is gained through daily ob­ser­va­tion and in­ter­ac­tion — more haste, less speed.” Matt Le­ung Ka-lun, main care­giver for pan­das Ying Ying and Le Le at Ocean Park

Ying Ying: born free in 2005 Age: 11 Age when brought to Hong Kong: 2 Dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture: eyes shaped like the num­ber 8 Likes: sleep­ing in tree tops, do­ing a bal­anc­ing act, walk­ing on branches and bend­ing back­wards. Sex: fe­male Weight: 100 kg

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