The red panda's new " enrichment" program
Date: 2021-05-06

Recently, in the red panda enclosures of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, there are more ropes, swings and platforms, as well as some red and yellow ‘food  enrichment’. What is the purpose of the ‘food enrichment’ when it's suspended between these trees and swings? Soon,an agile red panda climbed down the tree and gave everyone the answer.


Huh? What happened over there?

 I'll hurry down the tree and have a look


Pumpkins and apples hanging from a rope ladder


Red pandas climbing down from the treetops


One red panda went up on the swing like a log bridge, pulled off the apple, then hung on the swing and ate it. One red panda stood on a swing,shoved its head into a pumpkin and began eating. The two actually did not fight, and ate their favorite ‘enrichment food’.


 The red panda that ate the apple: "I also don't want to talk with that group of ‘bipeds’, they look silly staring and taking pictures, it seems they have never seen us eat... clean your mouth and move on!"


 ‘They've eaten all the food in the other garden. Oh,be quick, oh, no, no , it's hard to move on this shelf...’


‘Hey , don't worry, there seems to be food here, look inside of this...’


‘Shall I look inside it first?’


‘Bipeds’, what else is new for us? I ate everything from the vertical tube


The red panda, which are active and playful every day delight the tourists: ‘Oh! You can climb down the tree so fast, awesome! Hey! Look! Red pandas eat pumpkins! Why does the staff hang the food up? Do the red pandas play with them? Huh? With both hands, oh no, with both PAWS! Eat well! You can see the red panda doesn't even fall off the swing, it sits there like a rock. They don't fight. They don't fight for food. They are so flexible. They can climb the stairs.’


Giving the red panda ‘enrichment food’, really kills two birds with one stone, not only does it provide environmental enrichment for the red pandas, it also increases the interest of tourists. It seems like a small change, but it gives the visitors more chances to learn  about the red pandas.


The first bit of information is the red panda's diet. The red panda's diet is similar to the giant panda, around 90% is eating bamboo stems, shoots and leaves. Red pandas will also eat a small amount of fruit, leaves and fungus and will also prey on birds or bird eggs and other small animals. Just like giant pandas, red pandas like eating sweet food and are given apples at the Panda Base as treats.  Also like giant pandas, red panda feces is green when they eat bamboo leaves and yellowish when they eat bamboo shoots. Red pandas are very clean, and usually defecate in a fixed place called a toilet spot. After feeding, they use their hands to rub their faces and lick around their mouth to stay clean . Their motions are also very cute  because their little tongue is one of their sensory organs, we often see them sticking out their little tongue in a cute way.


The second bit of information is whether the red pandas live in groups or alone. In the wild, red pandas are territorial and are often seen alone or living in small family groups consisting of a mother and her cubs. In captivity red pandas are kept in groups, therefore, when the overall environment is not large enough, they will fight for food and territory. If they don't fight, everything is well. If they fight, they can be very fierce and they  can bite off each other's ears or tails. If there is enough food and space,  two pandas, who are equally strong (and perhaps of different genders), can stay together without much trouble.


The third bit of information is about the red panda's thick tail. Their tails help them balance while climbing, so they have the flexibility to climb up and down trees head first. The pattern of the nine rings on their tail brings them the special name of "nine ring wolf", which is also implies the fierce and tough side under their beautiful appearance.


The fourth bit of information is the red panda's front paw. It's easy for a red panda to grasp bamboo and hold tree branches, because they have a ‘sixth finger ’or pseudo thumb. Just like giant pandas, this adaptation helps them eat bamboo. Because of this adaptation,  and red pandas also share the same habitat with the giant pandas, scientists thought giant pandas and red pandas were closely related, which we now know is not true.


The fifth and final bit of information is the function of‘ environmental enrichment. It's not just pandas that need environmental enrichment, most animals in captivity need it too. The function of environmental enrichment, just as its name implies, is to enrich the living environment and life of captive animals. The purpose of enrichment is to reduce an animal's stereotypic behavior, in short, to prevent animals from being ‘crazy’ due to the stress of a monotonous life in captivity. At the same time by giving animals large, complex habitats that allow them to climb, explore and forage for food, the Base provides the animals a chance to exercise and stay physically healthy. By providing animals food in unique ways, like hanging apples and puzzle feeders, this type of enrichment challenges animals to think to obtain food, which helps improve their mental health. The key to all enrichment is that it provides animals more choices and control over their living environment, allowing them to express their natural behaviors. 


It seems that environmental enrichment is actually very important.





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