In March of last year I featured Er Shun in that month’s photo, at which point the panda twins were already 4 1/2 months old. In the blog post for that month I did talk about the cubs a little bit, and I added a video of their first 100 days. Please check that all out when you have the time. But at that time the naming contest was ongoing and the babies had yet to make their public debut. By the time that happened (on March 12, 2016 – see the photo at left) the names had been chosen: Jia Panpan (Canadian Hope) for the boy; Jia Yueyue (Canadian Joy) for the girl. They’ve always been moderately easy to tell apart: he’s been noticeably larger for their entire lives; the black regions around their eyes are quite different from one another; the “band” across their backs is much wider in the case of Yueyue than Panpan. He tends to be not quite as white as she is and she tended to wander much farther from Er Shun from a very early age. Having said all this, however, in terms of their overall adorability (not an actual word but I really don’t care), that contest is pretty much a dead heat.
Because they were born in October (the 13th, to be precise) their first few months in public were spent in their indoor exhibit, which proved quite difficult to photograph them in. It’s quite dim in there, the glass is fairly thick, and the cubs were very…wriggly. Add to that the thousands upon thousands of visitors who lined up daily to see them – sometimes for two hours or more – and my library of early shots of Yueyue and Panpan is quite a small one. On top of that, perhaps my favourite shot of either of the cubs was one I didn’t capture, because I wasn’t allowed to bring a camera in with me the first time I got to see them (during a preview for Volunteers and Staff a few days before the public “unveiling”). There was a boxy “playpen” for them (you can make it out in the shot with the first paragraph) and Panpan, being bigger, was just able to reach the top of its glass side and topple over into the box.
After he had done this a couple of times, Er Shun made her first appearance in the room with her babies. She made a beeline for her “mama’s boy” and, finding him in the playpen, proceeded to attempt to drag him out of there. The problem was, Er Shun herself is not particularly tall so she couldn’t really reach Panpan in a way that would enable her to pick him up and carry him out. So she just started to bite onto any part of him she could reach: ears, arms, legs, back, whatever. She eventually managed to work him out of the box…and proceeded to drop him on his head. She gathered him up again and dragged him over to a spot near the apparatus in the middle of the enclosure, so she could sit with her back propped up and attempt to nurse him. I say “attempt” because Panpan was not buying what Er Shun was selling. He kept wriggling and squealing while she tried to contain him and force him onto a nipple to absolutely no avail. After a couple of minutes of this, Er Shun – with Panpan in her arms, upside-down, facing away from her (in other words, the worst possible nursing position), with a huge grin on his face – looked straight into my eyes and let out a huge sigh as if to say, “Kids, amirite?” Then she dropped him on his head again, curled up, and went to sleep. Panpan 1, Er Shun 0.
I did manage to show up early a few times in 2016 and catch the cubs (and Mom, usually) before the public swarmed the place. On one of those occasions, in early May of 2016, while a few of us were standing at the glass by the indoor exhibit, the back door suddenly opened and a gaggle of staff members descended upon the place – vets, vet techs, keepers, health centre personnel. It turns out Jia Yueyue’s left eye had been giving her some trouble for a while and the vet, as is the norm at the Zoo, had time at that very moment to look at her so the team was immediately mobilized. We watched the proceedings in rapt fascination for quite some time before anyone inside seemed to notice that the Zoo was open (it was probably the first day for “Summer Hours”) and that we were quite absorbed in what they were doing. They all kind of shrugged and continued with the business at hand. In the photo above, Yueyue is sucking on a piece of bamboo which has been slathered with honey, while a vet tech (an extremely important tech just a little over a year later; that story will come to you at some point) takes close-up photos of her eye. You can see the display screen of her camera in my photo; for some reason I find this picture absolutely brilliant just for that capture alone.
Eventually the checkup was all done and everyone left the room except for a couple of keepers, who bottle-fed each of Yueyue and Panpan….leading to perhaps my favourite shot of Yueyue that I’ve taken to date:
They were far easier to capture outside – especially if there was room at the glass at the front of the outdoor exhibit. A long shot through the fence wasn’t a bad second choice, though. But the real issue was everyone wanted to see them and if the weather was nice enough for them to be outside – not too hot, not too cold – then their exhibit was very difficult to get close to. I’ve been going through my old photos today to pick out the ones to use for this post and it’s struck me that every single time I managed to get any shots of the pandas outside they were the first photos of the day and nearly always captured before 9 a.m. Add to that the fact that, as this calendar attests, there was some pretty stiff competition in the baby department throughout 2016 and you’ll begin to understand why my catalogue is a bit thin when it comes to these guys. Luckily they’re incredibly photogenic, so the ones I did take are pretty magical for the most part.
And even as they “grew up” they did so mainly in overall size; to this day they remain very childlike and playful in their daily activities.
And they still spend much of their time upside-down.
But at least…they still really love each other.
So that’s it for this month. Remember: if you haven’t seen these irresistibly cute furbabies yet, you don’t have long to get to the Zoo. As far as I know, all four members of the family will be heading for Calgary right after March Break of 2018.
Next month: whoo boy. There were a lot of Zoobabies in 2015/16 but they didn’t come any cuter than this “Army Brat.” Stay tuned for her story!