You might have noticed some new faces on Explore.org’s Panda Cam #3! The two new toddlers that are captivating viewers and spreading smiles across the virtual world are Hua Hu and Hua Bao – Xi Xi’s recently weaned 2013 cubs. In the yard next door, Gong Gong, Xing An, Hua Ni and Hua Yang are learning, climbing, playing, and having a panda-rific time.
While many watchers still see the Kindergartners as babies – we assure you that they are the perfect age to start exploring the world away from their mothers.
Although the weaning process in wild pandas has not been well documented, as experts from the San Diego Zoo note, “one of two things likely happens: either his mother runs him off with aggressive behavior, as has been noted with some brown bears, or the mother and cub simply wander away from each other and begin separate lives. Many panda fans worry that that final weaning event is a sudden change for the bears, but in reality it is the culmination of a longer process that begins some months before, when the cub develops his bamboo-feeding dentition.”
At about a year of age, a panda cub’s diet changes from one of 100 percent maternal milk to one incorporating his staple adult food, bamboo. He starts by feeding on small quantities of leaf, mastering the process of chewing and swallowing a solid food. Gradually, the cub ingests more and more bamboo and needs less caloric support from mother’s milk. By the time a final weaning separation occurs, he may only have been nursing once a day, or even skipping days between suckling bouts. The development of this nutritional independence takes time, and thus, weaning is not accomplished overnight. Since the pandas at the bases cannot simply wander away from each other as they would in the wild, keepers facilitate the process. Generally this process happens around 18 months of age.
So, while they may seem like babies, these toddlers are ready to take their first steps into independence (and from watching them on the cams, perhaps there is already a bit of early teenage rebellion being added to the mix).