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Yuan Yuan Continues Child-Rearing Practice with “stuffed cub” Standing in for “Second Cub”

Due to the baby Giant Panda “Second Cub’s” inability to nurse after birth and the unexpected injury on its back, after emergency assessment, the decision was made to rear her by hand. However, it was still important to keep the mother “Yuan Yuan” physically and mentally primed for raising a cub. She must continue to lactate so that the cub can eventually be returned to her mother’s side. In an effort to do so, the keepers brought out “stuffed cub,” the secret weapon last used by her big sister “Yuan Zai” when she was born. The day after the keepers started raising “Yuan Zai” by hand, an improved “stuffed panda cub” was placed beside “Yuan Yuan” to get her used to the presence of a cub. This was also used as an opportunity to observe interactions between “Yuan Yuan” and “stuffed panda cub” as it is an indicator of whether or not “Yuan Yuan” is ready to nurse the cub on her own.

After seven years, the “Stuffed panda cub” has evolved. The current model was once again a modified Giant Panda doll with a miniature Bluetooth speaker inside. Keepers can control the Bluetooth speakers remotely on their mobile phones to play a variety of cub noises. To simulate actual changes in the bodyweight of “Second Cub”, the keepers placed sterilized pebbles inside the doll as weights. Fresh urine and feces from “Second Cub” are also applied to the surface so that “Yuan Yuan” won’t forget the scent of her cub. The improved “stuffed panda cub” of 2020 featured the skillful needlework of Taipei Zoo employees, which made its face and body slightly narrower. We don’t know if “Yuan Yuan” noticed, but the current “stuffed panda cub” is a closer match to the baby Giant Panda’s real appearance.

Thanks to their previous experience with hand-rearing and returning a cub to its mother after “Yuan Zai” was born in 2013, the keepers have become more adept at operating “stuffed panda cub” this time around. Advances in technology means that an even more compact Bluetooth speaker can now be placed inside “stuffed panda cub.” The doll will also feel softer when “Yuan Yuan” picks it up in her mouth. The keepers noticed that the noises made by “Second Cub” change every 2 to 3 days. Her plaintive wails of hunger and grunts of comfort when defecating are all recorded and updated to keep “Yuan Yuan” in the loop.

The “Egg experiment” was performed with “Yuan Yuan” once again on July 10th using the stuffed cub based on past experience seven years ago. The experiment involved putting a raw chicken egg inside “Stuffed Panda Cub” to test the amount of force used by “Yuan Yuan” when picking the cub up in her mouth, cradling the cub in her lap, or when licking the cub. The experiment showed that “Yuan Yuan” was a gentle and attentive parent. The egg remained intact after the stuffed cub was left in her care for the whole night so “Yuan Yuan” seemed to be freshening up her motherhood skills.

“Yuan Yuan” had completely ignored the 1st generation “stuffed cub” when it was first offered to her seven years ago. The keepers made numerous improvements to the design before “Yuan Yuan” started taking proper care of the “stuffed cub.” “Stuffed Panda Cub” was made even more realistic this time. Just one modification was needed before it was accepted by “Yuan Yuan” without question. Even though “Stuffed Panda Cub” looked completely different from the pink cub that “Yuan Yuan” saw after giving birth, she is still taking good care of her cub because it sounded and smelled right. Her protective instincts have started kicking in as well. Keepers must now distract her with her favorite honey in order to extract “stuffed panda cub” and milk “Yuan Yuan.” Whenever “stuffed panda cub” makes a crying noise, “Yuan Yuan” would immediately stop whatever she is doing to pick up the doll, comfort and lick it or adjust her pose to make “stuffed panda cub” more comfortable. The keepers were all very moved by “Yuan Yuan’s” strong maternal instincts.

Many people want to know when “Second Cub” will be returned to the care of her mother, “Yuan Yuan.” This will depend not only on the continued interactions between “Yuan Yuan” and “stuffed panda cub,” but also on a number of other factors including how well the wound on “Second Cub” is healing and the physical condition of “Yuan Yuan.” The Zoo will actively assess all these indicators to determine the best time to return “Second Cub” to her mother’s care.