Panda keeper bears all for his ‘friends’

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By SHI XIAOFENG in Hangzhou shixf @chi­

Zhang Xusheng will re­tire from Hangzhou Zoo af­ter 38 years as a panda keeper at the end of this month.

To mark the oc­ca­sion, he had a spe­cial cel­e­bra­tion for two gi­ant pan­das in his care on July 14 when he cel­e­brated their birth­days with dozens of pri­mary school stu­dents and vis­i­tors from the city, which is the cap­i­tal of Zhe­jiang prov­ince.

“I can’t imag­ine my re­tire­ment with­out those pan­das. I have to get use to it,” he said, for­lornly.

Zhang, 60, has worked for Hangzhou Zoo since 1975. That year, gi­ant pan­das Ying Ying and Pei Pei came to the zoo and be­came ma­jor at­trac­tions.

Zhang started to nurse gi­ant pan­das in 1979 and has done it ever since, be­ing a con­stant com­pan­ion to all nine pan­das span­ning five gen­er­a­tions in the city’s big­gest zoo.

Cheng Jiu (Achieve­ment) and Shuang Hao (Dou­ble Good) came to the zoo last year and are the cur­rent oc­cu­piers of the Gi­ant Panda House.

They en­joyed the de­li­cious ice birth­day cake pre­pared by Zhang and the zoo for their third birth­day. Zhang stood out­side the bars and looked at them with pride and sat­is­fac­tion.

“Gi­ant pan­das, in fact, are not meek an­i­mals, they some­times will at­tack peo­ple, es­pe­cially strangers. But they rec­og­nize me. I can get close to them and we are friends,” Zhang said.

“I can even re­call when the pan­das started to con­sider me as a friend.”

Pei Pei, 33, one of the first gi­ant pan­das in the zoo, died in 2004. Her ripe old age was equiv­a­lent to 100 years for a hu­man. She held the record as the old­est panda.

“I was with her for nearly 30 years. Her death al­most crushed me,” Zhang said.

In 1985, gi­ant pan­das, which have to eat about half their body weight daily, faced a se­vere food short­age due to wide­spread bam­boo bloom­ing.

This re­sulted in the an­i­mals spurn­ing their sta­ple diet.

Zhang searched every­where in the city for ed­i­ble bam­boo. He even chopped down wild bam­boo and vis­ited the city’s botan­i­cal gar­den search­ing for food.

This led the gar­den’s ad­min­is­tra­tive staff com­ing to the zoo to com­plain.

“I al­most cut all the ed­i­ble bam­boo there,” he said with a laugh.

For the past 38 years, Zhang has stuck to a rigid rou­tine.

At 8 am, he goes to the Gi­ant Panda House and ob­serves the pan­das’ move­ments for a while. Then he leads them to the out­side gar­den for morn­ing ex­er­cises and cleans their room.

Pan­das have break­fast around 9:50 am and take a nap at 11 am.

He wakes them up around 1.30 pm for lunch be­fore an af­ter­noon nap. At 5 pm he cleans the room again.

“I will def­i­nitely come back to see Cheng Jiu and Shuang Hao fre­quently. I will miss them,’’ he said.

But he is sure they will be in good hands.

“I have men­tored four post­grad­u­ate stu­dents and I be­lieve they will do a great job and take care of them,” Zhang added.

Zhang Xusheng, a panda keeper at Hangzhou Zoo

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