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Panda Raising

December 28, 2005

How is the National Zoo making sure its panda cub will grow into a healthy, happy adult?


The science of panda rearing. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

This year has seen a record number of panda babies in zoos around the world, including precocious Tai Shan at the National Zoo in Washington, DC. Assistant curator Lisa Stevens is on the team that cares for Tai. She says his birth has been a good opportunity for the zoo to showcase its style of panda-raising—which is to step back and let the mother do the work.

We really take a more remote approach. Her biology and her behavior has evolved to do the job, and we really feel we need to set the stage for that to happen.

They do that by giving her choices—like where she and Tai will sleep and when it’s time to nurse or play. So far, she’s been a natural. Stevens says the next challenge is to find the right conditions for pandas to breed—something they don’t do readily in captivity.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.