My Adventures With Pandas

Dr. Ruth MacPete reports on her recent trip to a panda sanctuary in China.

I recently returned from a trip to Chengdu, China. For those of you unfamiliar with Chengdu, let me share some facts. Chengdu is the provincial capital and largest city in the Sichuan province of southwestern China. It is home to 7 million people and is the 7th largest city in China. Most famously, it is also home to the giant panda. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding center is located in a northern suburb of Chengdu. It was initially founded as a research center in 1987 but years later began welcoming visitors. The research center sees thousands of visitors from all over the world each year and sits on 262 acres of land. Currently, the center houses approximately 80 giant pandas. Thanks largely to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding center, tourism to Chengdu has increased dramatically as tourists flock to the city to see one of China’s national treasures, the giant panda.

Although now known mostly as a tourist attraction, the most important function of the research center continues to be a successful research and breeding center for the giant panda. In collaboration with several zoos from around the world, the research center is working to improve panda breeding and ensure that this amazing species survives. There are an estimated 2000 Giant Pandas in the wild, and like most endangered species, the biggest threat to their survival is habitat destruction.

When I arrived at the center, my initial impression was that it was much bigger than I expected it to be. The center is home to approximately 80 giant pandas housed in exhibits and habitats spread over 262 acres of land. The grounds are lush green and covered with beautiful bamboo, the panda’s favorite food. Habitats are large and well maintained open-air enclosures with lots of trees, bamboo, and wooden structures for pandas to climb and lounge around on. The first two pandas I encountered were snoozing soundly in their enclosure mere yards away from me. Even though they weren’t doing much, it was still amazing to see these magnificent creatures so close that I could almost reach out and touch them. The next habitat I visited was even more exciting. It was a large enclosure with a jungle gym in the middle and contained about fifteen pandas. These sub-adult or adolescent pandas were just lounging around the enclosure chewing away at their bamboo breakfast. Most were lazily eating bamboo while lying down on their backs, while a few others were sitting. Occasionally, a mischievous juvenile would try to grab his neighbor’s bamboo instead of moving a few feet to get its own bamboo. I probably spent 30 minutes watching them, entranced by their blissful existence of happily eating bamboo without a care in the world.

Besides watching the pandas, it was fascinating to see their effect on people. I saw the faces of kids and adults light up with delight and I heard their laughter when they encountered these gentle giants for the first time. Observing the crowd of visitors wearing panda hats and t-shirts, I could tell that “Panda Fever” was universal, affecting young and old, Chinese and foreign. It was heartwarming to see the positive effect that magnificent creatures can generate in people regardless of age, sex,race, or nationality.

However, although these experiences were amazing in their own right, the highlight of my visit was being able to meet a panda face-to-face, literally. Having worked with animals of all kinds, I knew what to expect, but actually experiencing it was a completely different matter. It was surreal to sit next to a 120-pound living and breathing teddy bear. Even when I reached over to pet him, he continued to munch on his apple, completely oblivious of my presence. Only when I decided to plant a big kiss on his furry head did he stop eating to look at me. However, before our eyes had a chance to meet, he decided the apple was more interesting than me and he resumed eating it. Even though he was more excited about eating his apple than meeting me, I was incredibly moved by the experience and I left the encounter with a smile stretched from ear-to-ear. The only downside to the encounter was that I smiled so much that my face hurt from the “perma-grin.” I left thinking what an amazing and beautiful animal and I am so pleased with all the efforts to save these magnificent animals. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will cherishforever.

I’d like to share some panda facts with you:

  • Giant pandas live in mountain ranges in the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu.
  • The giant panda is endangered and experts believe that there are about 1600 left in the wild.
  • No one knows how long pandas live in the wild but Chinese scientists have reported a zoo panda as old as 35.
  • Giant pandas do not hibernate.
  • Bamboo comprises 99% of the wild giant panda’s diet.
  • In addition to bamboo, pandas occasionally eat small rodents or musk deer fawns.
  • Pandas consume 20 to 40 pounds of bamboo a day.
  • Pandas forage and eat 10 to 16 hours a day.
  • Female pandas ovulate only once a year.
  • The gestation period for giant pandas ranges from 95 and 160 days.
  • Females give birth to one or two young but sadly only one cub usually survives in the wild.
  • Newborn panda cubs are pink, hairless and the size of a stick of butter, weighing a mere three to five ounces.
  • Giant panda cubs may stay with their mothers for up to 3 years.

For more great panda pictures, visit Dr. Ruth MacPete's Facebook page at!

Truffles The Cat Persuades Children That Wearing Glasses Is Awesome

Cats are beautiful, and probably no one could argue that they're not. However, it's somewhat harder to see how glasses are beautiful. But there's a cat out there whose sole mission is to prove otherwise.

Cats are beautiful, and probably no one could argue that they're not. However, it's somewhat harder to see how glasses are beautiful. But there's a cat out there whose sole mission.

Rusty the Panda’s big adventure from the National Zoo… to my neighborhood

Washington, DC’s National Zoo, a really wonderful place to visit, announced today that one of their red pandas, named Rusty, had escaped.

Fortunately, all is well and they’ve now found Rusty in my neighborhood, which happens to abut the National Zoo.

During his night and day on the town, Rusty was spotted, and photographed, by Adams Morgan resident Ashley Foughty, who promptly posted photos to Twitter:

Not surprisingly, there was the required faux Rusty Twitter feed (it’s pretty good, actually). And here’s the Zoo’s twitter feed as the day went on – you need to read from the bottom up:

Speaking of the National Zoo, I’d gone a few months ago and meant to post my photos, and didn’t. So now’s as good a time as any:

First, this wonderful gorilla, that had a penchant, the woman working there explained, for vomiting for tourists. Then he’d slowly eat the food, again with his finger, watch the vistors all go “yuck!” And then wait for the next unsuspecting group. I watched her, I believe, do this a few times. It was really neat that it wasn’t a busy day, so the gorilla was just hanging out next to the glass and I sat next to, outside the glass of course, but still right next to her, and snapped away. The woman working there also told me that this gorilla will look into women’s purses if they happen to open them while near the gorilla.

This was a cute little seal, or something of that nature, that I intended to shoot, but am surprised I actually caught, using my iphone.

A monkey of some sort in the jungle exhibit, who was just hanging out.

And my friend Scott waiting for the seal to come by – I loved the contrast and the lighting, so I snapped a photo while we were waiting.

John Aravosis
CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. John's article archive.

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27 Responses to “Rusty the Panda’s big adventure from the National Zoo… to my neighborhood”

Maybe he had outside help? You know, a gang of underground Pandas, hiding in the shadows of society, trying to right Panda wrongs one Panda at a time…

Of course it shouldn’t… but it’s going to happen at some point, better to just assume it will happen and be prepared for it. Zoos walk a pretty fine line between having enclosures that are both open and easily visible to the public, while being spacious and comfortable for the animal, and also being secure but not looking like a maximum security prison.

It’s nearly impossible to consider all the potential variables when dealing with an animal that doesn’t have much else to do with its time but look for ways to escape. Especially when it comes to something like primates, who learn keeper’s routines, and can devise plans around them. Or suddenly surprise the keepers by doing something they’ve never done before. Most zoos do a pretty good job at it, and a few dozen notable incidents a year, even fewer where the public is actually at risk, when you’re talking about thousands of animals of all shapes and sizes, and thousands of keepers of all experience and training levels, at hundreds of zoos across the country, is actually pretty good odds. The vast majority of the time it is entirely human error that leads to an escape, and it’s simply not possible to take the human out of the equation. All the zoos can do is lay out procedures, train the staff constantly, and be prepared for any eventuality. Of course, some use this as an argument for why we shouldn’t have zoos in the first place.

They still haven’t really explained the circumstances of Rusty’s walkabout. Did someone leave a door open, or neglect to trim a branch too close to an exterior wall?

The National Zoo Panda Cub Is 6 Months Old and He's Ready to Enjoy the Outdoors — Snow Included

Xiao Qi Ji the panda cub recently experienced snow for the first time and is starting to explore the outdoor portion of his exhibit at the National Zoo

Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji — the "little miracle" who continues to spread joy during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — has hit his 6-month milestone, and he's become a very social guy at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C.

"Every time he sees us, he's coming out of the den, wanting to interact," Marty Dearie, a panda keeper at the National Zoo, tells PEOPLE. "If we come walking in, he perks up and walks over and wants to interact with us. He mostly wants to play."

But, like a puppy, keepers have to discourage him from nibbling at them.

"We don't necessarily want a bear biting at us. But he's not trying to hurt us, he's just mouthing us," the keeper adds. "He's trying to interact — pandas interact with the world with their face, their nose, and their mouth. He's never rough or angry, if he's nipping it's for play."

The keepers at the National Zoo obviously adore Xiao Qi Ji, and the cub can't get enough of them either.

"He'll put his paws on us to look at us, he might stand on our leg. If I sit on the rock ledge in the enclosure, he'll come up next to me, put his paws on me," Dearie says. "He's looking for scratches."

The cub also enjoys playing tug-of-war with rubberized toys, a fire hose, or bamboo — and doesn't seem to realized the other side is throwing the game.

"He's not strong enough to pull it away from me, but after we fight for it a little bit, I'll let him win," Dearie says. "Of course he wins, every time."

The keepers call the 27-pound cub Qi Ji (chi-ji) for short, and when they come in and call his name, he's immediately interested. Eventually, they'll teach him to come over when he's called.

For now, Qi Ji's caretakers have figured out another way to get the cub to do what they want. After playtime, they lure him into the den with a toy, some sweet potato, and a piece of bamboo so they can finish cleaning his enclosure.

"He'll eat himself to sleep," Dearie says of the panda's love for food.

In fact, Xiao Qi Ji sleeps most of the day. In the nine hours that keepers are at the zoo, the cub is asleep 75 percent of the time. The unwritten rule of the panda house is to let sleeping bears lie.

"They can wake up pretty grumpy," Dearie says. "I don't like being woken up from a nap either, so I totally get it."

During his waking hours, Xiao Qi Ji is enjoying more adventures. In early February, after the Washington D.C. area received some snow, keepers decided to show the awake cub the cold stuff. He wasn't ready for the full yard, so they carried him to their keeper area.

"We brought him out and let him see the snow. He was not super interested in it, but I find that to be pretty normal for them. That was the first time he'd seen it, it was cold," Dearie says.

Last week, the keepers decided the cub was ready to go into the outdoor portion of the panda exhibit for the first time.

"He doesn't know the outside exists, so it's always fun for us to get to show him something that he's never seen before and let him have his mind blown for a little bit. I'm sure he went out there and was like, 'What is all this?'" Dearie says of the moment.

"Everything out in the yard is brand new to him. He wasn't as focused on mom as he was on everything that was around, but he definitely was within eyesight of her at all times," he adds. "I'm sure there was a reassurance there that his mom was right there if something spooked him or he was unsure about something."

After walking around exploring, going inside and coming back out a few times, and following mom around a bit, Xiao Qi Ji retreated inside for the day. The cub hasn't been outside since. He can only go out when there is a dedicated staff member to watch him. Also, the weather hasn't cooperated. Even though giant pandas are cold-weather animals, well adapted to very low temperatures, the keepers want to ease the cub's exposure. After all, he's spent his entire life to date living in the heated indoors. Now that the temperatures are climbing, the cub will undoubtedly have more adventures outside.

Though his dad Tian Tian roams an adjacent yard, the cub will never play with his dad. It's not a panda thing.

"They're solitary," Dearie explains. "Males play absolutely no role in the rearing of the young. This is true of every bear species. We know that polar bears, brown bears, and black bears, males will kill offspring, even their own offspring if they get the chance. We have never seen or heard anything like that with giant pandas, but we obviously do not want to be the zoo that figures out that giant pandas might do that."

Nevertheless, the cub's human keepers relish the time they spend with the Xiao Qi Ji.

RELATED: Pandas Mei Xiang And Tian Tian Caught Playing In Snow At The National Zoo

"We talk about it all the time, there are literally 10 of us that get to do this," Dearie says. "It's crazy when you think about how many people are in this country, even how many people are zookeepers in this country. We're the only institution in the United States that has a baby giant panda, so we're the only ones getting to do this. I'm not blind to it."

"Not only is it fun — don't get me wrong, it's a blast — but it serves a purpose," he adds.

Sometime in the next year, Xiao Qi Ji will become too old and too large to play with his keepers, but he will still need to be comfortable with being handled from time to time.

"Having him be that comfortable with us will allow us to be able to shift him when we're not going in with him, and be able to get him trained for things like blood draws and ultrasounds and vaccinations. All of that is supercritical work that we need to be able to do, so having him be that trusting and engaged with us makes our job all that much easier," Dearie explains.

Watch the video: Little Pandas Space Adventure. Learn About Space Life And Solar System. Babybus Gameplay Video

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