Among Pandas: For Mei Sheng

Filed in Stress Busters, Travels

Mei Sheng, the 4-year-old panda born in San Diego Zoo on 19 August 2003, should be on his way home to Wolong at this moment. Should be, but isn’t. His return has been delayed for a week. Wolong officials currently at the zoo to oversee his return decided to let him stay an extra week, and he will be on exhibit this whole week, so that his fans, prevented to visit due to the Southern California wild fires, can come by and say farewell to him.

From the day he was born, we all knew he would be returning to Wolong. That is one of the conditions of the giant panda loan agreement – that every offspring born to giant pandas while on loan, even if on foreign land, belongs to China and must return after they turn 2. In fact, Mei Sheng is two years late returning to Wolong.

For a while, it was thought Mei Sheng might be moved to another American zoo, but his semi-wild genes (his daddy Gao Gao was rescued from the wild in the early 1990s) are needed for Wolong’s breeding programme to guard against in-breeding.

A lot of his American fans have been protesting that he shouldn’t return to Wolong. Their main argument is that he is born in USA (his name even means “born in the USA” , and also “beautiful life” ) and is therefore an American citizen, but I suspect some of them also think Wolong may not have the facilities that he deserves.

During my recent trip to Wolong, I checked out the facilities for the 4-year-olds and took pictures to share on the Flickr Pandas Unlimited discussion forum. I think the pictures show that Wolong has more than adequate space for their 4-year-olds, and Mei Sheng, too.

There are two outdoor enclosures that house two groups of four-year-olds; this is one of them:

A group of 4-year-olds in the second outdoor enclosure:

I also took a short video on my Nikon CoolPix 5900 digital camera that shows how playful the above group is:

I’m not sure if Mei Sheng will be housed with one of the 4-year-old groups, or will be on his own. These fellows have been together since 6 months, and it might not be easy to introduce a newbie in their midst. Looking at the current batch of 1-year-olds, I saw that some of them were hanging out together more than with other cubs, so they could be housed together in smaller groups after they “graduate” from kindergarten.

Whatever his housing arrangements after he arrives in Wolong, I have no doubt they will be suitable and adequate for him, and sending him back to Wolong is a good move, as it will help ensure the survival of the giant panda.