For other zoos, getting bamboo presents unique challenge
Only four U.S. zoos house the endangered giant pandas native to China. And while all four are tasked with procuring bamboo for their pandas, each has a unique job to fulfill.
“We’re very lucky. We have both a very large zoo and very large safari park,” San Diego Zoo spokeswoman Christina Simmons said.
That’s fortunate for the West Coast zoo, which is home to four giant pandas.
Along with a 100-acre zoo, the safari park boasts 1,800 acres of space.
“We have quite a bit of acreage set aside for us to grow ‘browse’ — living plants used to feed animals,” she said.
Among the browse is bamboo for the zoo’s four giant pandas and eucalyptus for the koalas.
“We have a great climate and those things grow well here, year round,” Ms. Simmons said. “We have acreage set aside to grow them and people whose job is to maintain the farm and harvest the plants.”
The Memphis Zoo in Tennessee has two adult giant pandas, but it also grows bamboo for the Toronto Zoo, which welcomed its two giant pandas earlier this year.
The Canadian climate is not the best for growing bamboo, Memphis Zoo spokeswoman Laura Doty said. In humid Memphis, “it keeps growing. Our bamboo crew, in addition to cutting bamboo for our pandas, cuts bamboo for the pandas in Toronto.”
Ms. Doty said the zoo harvests from bamboo on its property, but a majority is taken from the “bamboo farm” at the Agricenter International, a farm and research center in Memphis. About 10 acres there are used to grow bamboo for the zoo.
“We have acres out in Mississippi, but they don’t go there as often because it’s farther away,” Ms. Doty said.
For the Toronto pandas, the bamboo is cut, brought back to the Memphis Zoo and handed off to an overnight delivery company with refrigerated trucks. It then is put on a plane and shipped across the border.
“That happens a couple times a week,” Ms. Doty said. “You can’t really stock up on it because [the pandas] like it fresh fresher the better. You can’t go out and stockpile it for months in advance. It’s a daily process.”
Fulton County Zoo in Atlanta welcomed twin panda cubs in July, marking its fourth and fifth cubs in seven years. Along with nurturing the toddlers, the zoo must also keep a steady supply of bamboo for its five adult giant pandas.
Rytis Daujotas, the manager of the animal nutrition kitchen, said the zoo has more than 500 harvesting sites where about a dozen different species of bamboo grow — and there’s always calls coming in for new donations.
“Various types of bamboo are harvested Monday through Friday by a team of four bamboo techs who hand pick each piece and harvest with hand tools only,” Mr. Daujotas said.
He said the bamboo is carefully selected and the harvest sites rotate throughout the year to ensure sufficient regeneration and a healthy crop that lasts. The species of bamboo that the zoo’s pandas do not eat are used to enrich other animals’ diets.
“The bamboo donor program has proved to be a success, eliminating the need to farm our own bamboo,” Mr. Daujotas said.