Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pandas On Parade

I was in Atlanta recently and made my first ever trip to their zoo. I’m not much of a zoo person, but I never miss the opportunity to see some pandas. There are only three zoos in the United States that have these rare gentle giants.

Pandas are about the cutest animals alive. They just aren’t too bright or particularly frisky. Like their very distant cousins, the three-toed tree sloth, they have found a narrow ecological niche that doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting and have sunk into a relaxed torpor that is the envy of many.

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They spend most of their day eating bamboo and sleeping, not necessarily in that order. As a guy, the only downside to this lifestyle is that the mating season is only three days long annually. The docent at Zoo Atlanta expresses head shaking bewilderment at how many women visitors find that the most envy-worthy part of being a panda.

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Because of their indifferent approach to breeding, animal lovers have gone to very extreme measures to mate pandas whenever possible. Zoo Atlanta has bred a pair and the baby, if you can call anything over two hundred pounds a baby, is close to being weaned. We were lucky enough to catch one of his last visits to the teat before he gets put on the all bamboo diet.

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When I was in China last summer, we had a free afternoon and I voted for going to the zoo to kill time. The Beijing Zoo is very large and fairly modern. And since they are very close to the source, they have five pandas in captivity. Since it was a very hot afternoon in July, they were doing the only sensible thing: sleeping. Nonetheless, I managed to get a few pictures.

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Living near Washington, DC, it’s easy to get jaded with all the opportunities. The National Zoo is part of the Smithsonian and is free to the public, except that parking is a bitch, and a little expensive. I have gotten by there a few times in the late afternoon, but the pandas get rounded up at five so the zookeepers can head home.

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The National Zoo also has its own baby, one that was called Butterstick by the blogging world because that it is how big a panda is at birth, which makes baby pandas just that more adorable. This picture of him in a tree was taken nearly two years ago and he is nearly full grown now.

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The zoo most famous for pandas is the San Diego Zoo which truly is one of the nicest zoos anywhere. Unfortunately, their panda viewing area tends to be more crowded and less photogenic than other newer zoos. Still, the allure of pandas is irresistible.

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I do have to admit without sounding too speciest, that all pandas seem to look alike. The zoo docents will go into detail about which panda has which earmarkings, but all I see are big furry cuddly blobs of black and white.

The only zoo with pandas in the U.S. that I haven’t been to is in Memphis. I was there two summers ago paying a pilgrimage to Graceland, but don’t see getting back there anytime soon. I hope they save the pandas for me.

For more panda pictures, I have tagged a whole bunch of my pictures on Flickr as well as a set of pictures of other animals from Zoo Atlanta, and like everything else, there is a Flickr groups just for pandas.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Do we love pandas just because they are cute, or is there something deeper?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Awwwwwww. Probably because they are so cute - big and round and cuddly-looking, beautifully marked, big black eyes, the cutest ears. I had a stuffed panda bear as a kid that was my favorite to sleep with. I lived in DC when the first panda was at the National Zoo. He was always asleep when I visited (I think it was as a he).

mostlylurking

DemetriosX said...

I don't find pandas all that especially cute. Cute, yes, but nothing special. One maybe two standard deviations to the right of the median. They're helped by their resemblance to teddy bears (connected to their general motionlessness, I'd say) and they've had some great marketing.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

There was something extremely rude/funny about Pandas on Graham Norton not too long ago. Seeing your pics made me LOL as a result. They are such lovely animals though.

Anonymous said...

As a self appointed panda expert, I must point out that there are 4 US zoos that have pandas. DC, Atlanta, Memphis, & San Diego. (I tried to resist the urge, really I did, but I failed)

Also, I've learned that the easier way to tell the pandas apart is by their tails and the band across their backs. I never had much luck with the eyes or ears.

In DC, the female has a round tail and a wider band on her back. The male has a triangle tale and his band comes to a pinch in the middle..like a tuxedo bow tie !

So now you know !

Carol Ott said...

The San Diego zoo also had koalas when I was a kid. Vicious nasty little buggers, but oh so cute.

Pandas don't just eat and sleep, my friends...they poop.

And now, because of my comment, this site will be number one soon in Google when searching "Panda poop". You just know someone out there is searching for that, too.

yellojkt said...

I'm not very good at counting since I mention all four US zoos in the post.

I haven't seen the pandas take a dump, but with that high fiber diet, it's inevitable. I did snap the shutter as a warthog started laying some pipe. My family went "ewwww" but it's in the Flickr group.