Qiang Qiang and I – A Keeper’s Story – Part 3 of 4

Qiang Qiang and I

Written by Qiang Zhou, CCRCGP
Translated by Pat Weiyi Zhang

Intensive care

At 12:30 am, Aug. 4 all of the lights were still on in the offices at the center. The leaders of the center were having emergency meeting, and after detailed discussion, they had come up with an initial recovery plan for Qiang Qiang and Ms. Yanwu Lai and I were appointed as primary keepers.  The Animal Management Department made a detailed feeding plan.  The Animal Hospital made medical treatment plan for Qiang Qiang’s recovery including the amount of medicine to feed Qiang Qiang, which we had to strictly follow. The nutritionists made a special formula of food and Qiang Qiang was also to be given fresh bamboo, apples, carrots, nutritious liquid, bamboo shoots and Wowotou, or panda bread. The Science and Research Department collected fecal, urine, and blood samples for tests.  We had to record Qiang Qiang’s status every 30 minutes. The meeting finished at about 2am. Gradually, keepers and management began to leave after seeing Qiang Qiang finish the nutritious liquid, eat the bamboo shoots, and fall into a peaceful sleep.

I was on duty that entire first night. I sat quietly alone in the enclosure, turned on an electric stove (to warm Qiang Qiang), and carefully observed his every movement.   Even when he was asleep and motionless, I would note in my journal: Qiang Qiang was sleeping sweetly. Around 4pm, Qiang Qiang woke up. I thought he was hungry and fed him fresh bamboo shoots and bamboo leaves. Qiang Qiang ate some and slept again until sunrise.

In the early morning of Aug. 4, Ms. Yanwu Lai came for her shift. I told her about Qiang Qiang’s status from the previous night, handed over the journal and went home to rest. Qiang Qiang was in my dreams as I slept. I knew it was all because I was too concerned about Qiang Qiang so I ran back to his enclosure after a quick lunch.  I thought that maybe he was finally eating enough because Qiang Qiang looked in much better spirit. Ms. Lai and I were so happy and excited that we couldn’t even speak.

Qiang Qiang was having much trouble moving around with incomplete limbs. He defecated all around the straw mat. We had to get close to him to clean up, which was dangerous for us.  We were also concerned that it might also agitate Qiang Qiang and disturb his appetite and routine.  If he got too anxious and tried to escape with broken hind legs, it would be bad for his healing wounds. Thinking of this, we decided to clean Qiang Qiang’s enclosure after 1am when Qiang Qiang was already asleep. We also put fresh bamboo and bamboo shoots in at the same time so when Qiang Qiang woke up every morning , he could see them and would be in good mood.

After one month, Qiang Qiang had gone from a weak, shattered panda to a panda with a good spirit and will to survive. Although he was still thin (about 80 kgs), we were all confident and hopeful. During this time, Qiang Qiang and I got acquainted. Gradually, he became less cautious. Every day he would grab the bamboo I gave him with his paws and eat with happiness in his face.

 Rehabilitation of the Broken Limbs

With intensive care from the staff, after the first month, Qiang Qiang’s leg wounds were almost healed. However, Qiang Qiang was still not attempting to walk. If he never walked, his hind limbs would become completely useless, which would be a huge challenge to his quality of life and could even be a threat to his survival.

Under the guidance of Director Zhang of the center, my colleague Ms. Yan Wu Lai and I tried to train Qiang Qiang to walk using bamboo shoots, apples and carrots as incentive. We put his favorite food (apples)  about 1m from him and tempted him to walk on his hind limbs using his front limbs for stability. He was very unhappy and protested with a low angry roar.  In time, however, when he found that his protests were useless, he started to look around and wanted to crawl over. His efforts, sadly, were useless. My heart ached for him and I wanted so badly to just put the apple into his mouth. I knew, though, that allowing him to learn and live was showing real love for him. That moment was frozen in time. I don’t know how long a time passed before Qiang Qiang clawed a tiny step forward with his front limbs towing his hind limbs behind. I was so elated to see his persistence and had to once again hold my tears back. I gave him a proud smile and prayed in my heart: Come on Qiang Qiang! If you can crawl, you will be able to survive.

In the beginning, twice a day we trained Qiang Qiang like this. Each time he had to crawl 2 meters. There was an apple and a bamboo at each point to reward him. Although he crawled only 2 meters each day, which for a normal panda was not far at all, it was as long as one thousand miles to Qiang Qiang and it was a hard journey. Each time when Qiang Qiang got the food, he would chew slowly with his back turned to us. Maybe it was a kind of silent protest.

After 10 days of training, Qiang Qiang gradually adapted to crawling. In the beginning, the sheer effort would cause him to shake.  At the end of the first 10 days he could walk stably. We increased the intensity of training. Each day we put food in random locations around the enclosure.  Sometimes we even put the food outside the enclosure so that he had to search for the food everywhere. Although he moved slowly, he managed to find the food smoothly each time. This must have been his survival instinct. Driven by such instinct, and after one month of hard training, Qiang Qiang could move forward coordinating the movement in both his hind limbs and front limbs.

In the months that followed, we continued training Qiang Qiang to strengthen his hind leg muscles and continued caring for him with love. We were there as he walked, ate, slept, drank and took in sunshine…

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