Tai Shan Meets the Public; 5-Month Old Panda On View for Ticket-Holders

Tai Shan Meets the Public; 5-Month Old Panda On View for Ticket-Holders

Byline: Dr. Jo Gayle Howard

Dr. Jo Gayle Howard , reproductive specialist at the National Zoo, was online Thursday, Dec. 8, at 2 p.m. ET to talk about giant baby panda Tai Shan’s first day meeting the public and artificial insemination.

Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.

Seeing Tai Shan

Panda Photo Gallery

A Cub Born of Technology (Post, Dec. 8)

Video: Tai Shan Meets the Press

A transcript follows.

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Dr. Jo Gayle Howard: Hi everyone. Thanks for coming today. I will be glad to answer any questions you have on giant panda biology and our research in China. Dr. JoGayle Howard, National Zoo reproductive physiologist

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Dr. Jo Gayle Howard: Hi everyone. Thanks for coming today. I will be glad to answer any questions you have on giant panda biology and our research in China. Dr. JoGayle Howard, National Zoo reproductive physiologist

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Detroit, Mich.: Does this baby panda belong to the United States or is it technically on loan from China?

Dr. Jo Gayle Howard: All giant pandas in the world belong to China, so yes Tai Shan belongs to China. He will return to China around his second birthday where he will eventually breed and play a very important role in panda conservation. Hopefully, one day his offspring will be reintroduced into the wild.

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Washington, D.C.: I don’t recall reading or hearing much about the interaction between Tai Shan and his father. Has the male panda seen his baby yet? Has he shown any interest in him? I assume he’s aware Tai Shan has been born, but perhaps not. If they haven’t been acquainted yet, when will that happen, and what are the typical dynamics between a father panda and his baby? Many thanks.

Dr. Jo Gayle Howard: Tai Shan has not interacted with his father. Male pandas play no role in the rearing of cubs. The National Zoo has no plans to introduce them. When Tai Shan begins going outside, he may see TianTian through a mess window and it will be interesting to see how they interact.

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Washington, D.C.: The National Zoo has been trying for so long to have a panda cub — how does it feel to finally have one?

Dr. Jo Gayle Howard: It has been exciting to have a healthy new panda cub at the nation’s zoo!! He represents over 20 years of research studying giant panda biology in China and the USA. It is great working with our Chinese colleagues in learning more about pandas.

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Washington, D.C.: Dr. Howard,

I am a huge fan of Tai Shan. I watch him on the Web cam every day and tried to volunteer in the panda house but was told there were too many applicants and I didn’t get in.

I have to say that I have been very disappointed in how the zoo has handled revealing the little guy to the public. When he was born, the zoo said he would go on public display in September. Then they pushed it back to October. Then November. THen December — but only with tickets. And lo and behold, when I tried to get tickets, the server crashed and I couldn’t get through online.

I am afraid the zoo has messed up what should be a totally joyous experience. When will we get to see the little guy, for real? At this rate, I wouldn’t be too surprised if he’ll be full grown before we get to see him — or just about to leave to go to China.

Dr. Jo Gayle Howard: I am very sorry you couldn’t get tickets, but there will be more available very soon. Please keep checking the website for updates. There will be a few tickets available on a daily basis at the Visitor Information kiosk.

In terms of opening the Fujifilm Giant Panda habitat, we wanted to make sure Tai Shan was ready and active enough for the public. It was just a few weeks ago that he started coming out of the den. So we took our cues from both MeiXiang and Tai to get the timing right. I’ve seen many cubs in China and believe me – they stay cute for a long time. So don’t worry and keep trying!

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Washington, D.C.: Match made in (panda) heaven — Tai Shan and his female counterpart in San Diego. We’d have all American pandas! Any chance of this? Someday?

Dr. Jo Gayle Howard: All giant pandas participate in a global breeding program based on genetics. The National Zoo helps to make breeding recommendations for specific pairs that will result in the most genetically healthy population. Our hopes are to develop a self-sustaining breeding population to ensure pandas for the future.

As for the San Diego cub, we will wait if they will be a good genetic match.

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New York: Hello Dr. Howard,

Clearly, baby animals get a lot of people aware of and hopefully interested in conservation … is there any way to know whether we do become more conscientious and considerate toward the environment we live in, as a result of zoo/national park/etc., visits?

Dr. Jo Gayle Howard: The National Zoo has many scientists working in China with the goal of saving giant pandas in the wild and breeding programs. Our research is funded by the Friends of the National Zoo, and we are currently raising funds for the next 5 years of research. In terms of saving the environment, awareness is the key for conservation efforts.

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washingtonpost.com: Fresh Panda Video

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Washington, D.C.: Is it true that the pandas aren’t actually bears in the technical sense. And also, we all tend to think of a bear as a vicious animal and dangerous. Do giant baby pandas have any of those characteristics?

Dr. Jo Gayle Howard: Historically, giant pandas and red pandas were thought to be in the bear family. Our research later showed that giant pandas are in the bear family, however, red pandas are more closely related to raccoons and not bears!

In terms of a vicious animal, panda are wild animals and can be dangerous. They have very strong neck muscles and sharp teeth and claws that they use to defend territory.

TaiShan is developing these traits and will be a big strong male very soon.

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Washington, D.C.: THANK YOU for your part in “making” this adorable little creature! My question is in regards to the interaction between Tai Shan and the zookeepers.

I know that giant pandas will never be “domesticated” the way my dogs are, but does he seem to enjoy physical contact with his handlers at all? When they hold him and examine him do they scratch his belly, rub behind his ears, etc? Does he seem to want attention and affection from the humans? Or is the protocol to keep that sort of thing to a minimum in order to keep him as “naturally wild” as possible?

He just looks so ‘huggable’!

Dr. Jo Gayle Howard: You are welcome!! We are very thrilled that after many years of research we have the knowledge on reproductive biology in giant pandas to produce this cub. It was a huge team effort at the National Zoo to collect the urine samples, evaluate the urinary hormones to predict the peak estrus and ovulation, collect and process semen from Tian Tian, and especially the know the precise technique for insemination into the uterus.

As Tai Shan is growing, this teeth are getting sharper and petting him will not be an option! But our animal staff has developed positive reinforcement methods to allow us to have protected contact with our pandas. For example, MeiXiang has been trained in a training area (behind bars for our safety) so that we can collect blood samples, take x-rays, conduct ultrasound exams and some of the tests needed to monitor her estrous cycle. This is also important because it allows us to examine her without anesthesia!

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Fairfax, Va.: Tai Shan is just the cutest thing! But I met you hear that all the time.

How soon after giving birth can female pandas have another cub? Are there any plans to have another one? Thank you.

Dr. Jo Gayle Howard: Yes he is cute and a miracle of science! Many years of studying the pandas have really paid off! Panda cubs stay with mom for about 1.5 years in the wild, so Mei Xiang and Tai Shan will stay together next spring 2006 breeding season and she will not breed. But in 2007, she will be ready again to make our next panda cub!!!

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Dr. Jo Gayle Howard: Thank you everyone for asking so many great questions about Tai Shan. It’s wonderful to know how excited everyone is about this “ambassador” to conservation.

Over the next few weeks, we will be evaluating how Tai Shan is reacting to the public and hopefully expand viewing times and add more dates. Keep checking the Web site for updates on more panda tickets. In the meantime, a limited amount of tickets are available on a daily basis (for that day) at the Visitor Information kiosk across from the Fujifilm Giant Panda Habitat starting at 8 a.m.

Thank you!

Jo Gayle

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