2018 “THE GRUMPY PENGUIN” Calendar – January Story

01 Da Mao January

Da Mao and his snowy blanket

Happy New Year!!! We made it! Be honest, now: how many of you weren’t really sure you’d see 2018? …. that’s an awfully small number of hands raised, so I’m going to go ahead and assume quite a few of you are playing fast and loose with the truth. “Alternative Facts,” perhaps? Anyhow, here we are on the threshold of another year, which means….a new calendar! Yay! So without further ado, let’s plunge into the animals of “THE GRUMPY PENGUIN 2018 WALL CALENDAR” like….oh, let’s say like a giant panda into a pile of snow.

Da Mao 01

Da Mao exploring the snow

I have posted quite a bit about the Toronto Zoo’s four giant pandas over the past couple of years, so I don’t really have a great deal more to tell you in this first piece of the year. I’ll show you a few photos and link to a couple of really cool videos, though, so do stick around. The photo at the top of this page (the January calendar photo) almost didn’t happen. There have been so many stories and videos of Da Mao playing in fresh snow that I have been getting increasingly frustrated at not being able to capture any of his hilarious antics myself. So on the day in question – February 1st of last year – I headed straight for the panda exhibit when I arrived at the Zoo in the middle of a wonderful, soft snowfall with big, beautiful flakes. I checked out the kids first to see if they were out in the snow (they weren’t) and then moved quickly to the rear enclosure to see what their dad was up to. When I caught my first glimpse of the inert form of Da Mao, I am fairly certain my reaction was not a happy one. All that freshly fallen snow and not a sign of impending activity from my intended star.

Da Mao 03

Dreaming about tobogganing, perhaps?

But as I stood there and watched him for a bit (I mean, he’s pretty cute even when he’s immobile, let’s face it) I noticed a cool thing: the snow was beginning to accumulate on his body as he lay motionless. And, as more and more powder covered him, my disappointment waned until it was completely gone. It then became a matter of waiting as long as I could to get a shot with the most snow possible on Da Mao before he inevitably yawned or stretched or shifted or moved in any way that would disturb this perfect “Still Life with Panda.” My timing was perfect, as it happened, because I only took three shots – all within a few seconds of each other – before the adorable fluffball changed his position and shook most of the snow off. I left soon after, so I have no way of knowing whether he would end up completely covered later in the morning, but I was thrilled with my capture and figured it was time to move on. By the way, the two smaller photos accompanying this story were not taken on the same day as the calendar shot. It seems I had seen him hunker down under a snowfall earlier in the year but had failed at that time to recognize the potential of this position.

Pandas 01

(L-R) Er Shun, Jia Yueyue, Jia Panpan

In November, Sarah and I attended a very entertaining talk given by Gabe Magnus, Toronto Panda Behaviourist. I was very disappointed to have missed his presentation to the Volunteers a few months earlier, so I was excited when I saw there was a second opportunity to learn from him. During his presentation, Gabe showed many photos; one in particular, however, really stuck with me. It was a very similar shot to the one at the top of this page with one major difference: in Gabe’s picture, Da Mao was lying in the opposite direction. Between his shot and the two different days I encountered Da Mao lying under a snowfall, I have extrapolated that this is not that rare an event. Given that this winter – the final one in Toronto for the giant pandas before they move on to Calgary for five year (and hopefully more babies) – is showing all the signs of being a very snowy one, I will drop in on Da Mao and the rest of the gang as often as I can to see if I can catch him in an even more wonderful shot involving snow.

Speaking of Gabe Magnus: he was the mastermind behind this “Fall Compilation” (not the season!) video which the Zoo shared on YouTube earlier this year. This is a true work of art; Gabe has even perfectly synchronized the soundtrack with the climaxes of each fall and I know firsthand how difficult and time-consuming that attention to detail can be. Hope you enjoy this!

Da Mao 01 calendar

Da Mao sleeping on his head

I mentioned in my post of last October created for the Baby Boom! calendar that I had rarely encountered the cubs sitting in any other position than upside-down through most of my visits since they were born in 2015. As you can see in the photo at left, they don’t tend to grow out of this habit. Well, at least Da Mao didn’t. But further to that comment: I have witnessed first-hand the plummeting of these little creatures to the ground on many, many occasions. There is no question Gabe had a lot of material to work with. Seriously, they have to be made of rubber. Or some other synthetic material. There is no possible explanation for a carbon-based lifeform to be able to fall several feet onto its head on a semi-regular basis with absolutely no noticeable ill effects of any kind. It just boggles the mind.

To sort of “dovetail” both of these points, here is probably my favourite of all the videos on the Toronto Zoo YouTube site which feature Da Mao in snow. Don’t miss his daredevil manoeuvre at the 30-second mark!

There are many other such videos on their site. You can check out the videos specifically featuring the giant pandas (with or without snow) here. Then you should take a look at their full site, accessible from that site by clicking on the name “The Toronto Zoo”, or through this link. If you missed my first post about the Zoo’s pandas, it came in March of 2016 (when Er Shun was the calendar girl for the month), and you can read it here. And if you have any interest in seeing the giant panda family before they leave for Calgary, you have until March 18 of this year. Hurry! Also, there will be two other events similar to the one featuring Gabe Magnus happening before they leave. Details are on the Zoo’s website (you may have to scroll down a bit).

As always, thanks for reading. Here’s to a turnaround for the world in 2018; in the meantime, I’m always posting photos of animals on my Facebook account (I make them “Public” so you don’t have to “Friend” me to see them, but I believe you do need to access the photos through a Facebook account of your own, or a family member). And, of course, there will be 23 other posts just like this one over the course of 2018. Well, maybe 24 because the cover photo of “Sir Nils Olav the King Penguin” is probably worth its own story down the road. See you next month where the featured animal(s) are, for the first time ever in my calendars, not from the Toronto Zoo’s collection!