Day 3. This was the day I had been waiting for. We would be able to "play" with the kindergarten pandas. I didn't even mind waking at 6:30.
Once at the Preserve, we donned out brown maintenance coveralls. For the first time we put blue plastic covers over our shoes, tucked our gloves into a pocket and proceeded to the kindergarten play area--a large grassy enclosure with a swing, hanging tires, jungle gym with a ladder and lots of trees for climbing. But before we could play, we had to earn our keep. Our job was to clean what appeared as a stone and slate patio area before the pandas were let out of their cages. The staff useds old fashioned stick brooms which we found worked much better than the straw ones we use at home.
Once we had swept up the bamboo, plant detritus and panda droppings from the previous day, we moved on to sweeping and mopping the tiled area around the courtyard where the kindergartner' cages and the room with the incubator were located.
Satisfied that we had created a neat, clean area, we were rewarded with bowls of milk for the panda kids. The keepers accompanied us inside the cages but there did not appear to be any need for that. The 'kids' were thrilled to get their bowls and lapped hungrily at them.
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Finished, the keepers swooped down on them, dish towel in hand to wipe their mouths. Then we were ushered out.
But my panda decided she wanted to leave with me. The keeper made a grab for her but she evaded him and slipped out the door, hanging on to my pant leg. He finally grabbed her and pulled her off my pant leg but in no time she had grabbed by hand and hung on for dear life. If she'd been a child, she'd have been screaming "I want to go with her" at the top of her lungs. Reluctantly, I eventually managed to pull her lose. What a shame. I was ready to take her back to my hotel room. It was like having my own stuffed panda come alive.
Play over, we returned to the kitchen where we rinsed out their bowls before they were placed in the sterilizer.
Meanwhile, having had their milk, the babies were let out into the play area that we had just cleaned. With our dishwashing chores completed, we picked up our clipboards with a new set of observation sheets and joined the tourists (almost all of whom are Chinese, we have seen very few Western tourists) around the fence of the play area to observe our babies. Frances and I were assigned Zhang Zhang.
The facilitators gave us our new charges and we began our observations. After the fairly lazy adults we had observed the previous day, we suddenly found ourselves confronted with lots of play activity and frantically began leafing through our codebook to locate the appropriate subcodes for such 7b activities as climbing the ladder, rolling around and tugging at each other, and gnawing the grass.
Eventually two began a game of hide and seek. One lumbered under the jungle gym in what was a little cave while the other climbed the apparatus, then, startled to find herself alone, hung down over the edge, trying to locate the one below who would periodically peek out from the shadows. Meanwhile a third climbed a tree and remained there, resting, for the duration of our observation.
Frances and I were teamed again. We watched one panda gambol under the jungle gym in what was a little cave while our panda climbed the ladder to the top of the gym and began a game of hide and seek, hanging upside down, trying to reach the one below. The third panda found a tree, climbed it and remained there for the duration of the 30 minutes we observed. The tourists stretching along the fence began to realize what we were doing, and, when our panda would jot off to one end of the yard where we couldn't follow her, they would point her out to us as we made our way to that end of the yard. By the time lunch rolled around, we were ready. We had had our exercise for the day.
Back at the seminar room, we received a quick tutoring session on putting data into the Preserve's master data base and then began inputting the data we had collected over the past two days. Our data was actually being integrated into this master data base from which the research results from this based flowed. We were truly a part of a major research undertaking to learn about pandas.