• Panda-ring to their every whim
  • China Daily 2010-05-21 09:43 anonymous
  • (Low carbon net news) Many people will think that Yang Jie has the dream job. "Isn't handling giant pandas one of the best jobs in the world?" asked Xu Yang, an 8-year-old primary school student, when he watched 10 panda cubs at the Shanghai Zoo on a Saturday morning in May.

    But for 28-year-old Yang, a panda handler, the job is not all about cuddling and playing with what is perhaps the most adored animal in the country.

    "Food, moods, pee and poo of the pandas - all these trivial things in visitors' eyes are actually important matters I need to consider," Yang said.

    Yang has been taking care of pandas of all ages for nine years. Since he graduated from college with a degree in animal science, he joined the China Giant Panda Protection Research Center in Wolong, Sichuan province.

    "In Wolong, many volunteers from all over the world call me 'master'," Yang said.

    Zoo director Pan Xiuyun said Yang and his colleagues are also tutors to some researchers with doctorates.

    "Panda handlers offer much experience outside of textbooks," Pan said.

    Yang works in different cities whenever pandas need him on their tours outside the center. But the latest trip to Shanghai, as part of Expo 2010 Shanghai, is a little bit different for Yang and his three colleagues.

    "The panda cubs are young and sensitive to changes. Also, 10 pandas make a large group. It requires more effort and patience to make sure they are safe and sound," Yang said.

    On the night when the pandas arrived at the Shanghai Zoo, everyone expecting the little black-and-white bears was ecstatic. Cameras focused on the largest panda delegate ever in the city.

    But Yang was not that happy.

    "Two of the panda cubs were agitated when the plane landed," he said.

    "I was worried they would not handle the sudden change of environment."

    Now four months have passed and the "Expo pandas" are doing quite well.

    "The top concern now is to make sure they are not growing too fast," Yang said. "That's why we need to modify their meal portions according to their health."

    While pandas have their first daily snack of freshly picked bamboo leaves and shoots at 8 am, Yang and his colleagues have their cut out for them - cleaning the 100 square meter panda house.

    Yang later prepares breakfast for the pandas. The set menu includes milk of a special formula, carrots, steamed corn cakes and apples. Each panda gets about three carrots, two bamboo shoots, 250 corn cakes and 800 g of milk. The food is weighed carefully and a panda gets two of such meals every day.

    Yang opens one of the 10 logbooks on the table and notes down the breakfast portion briefly.

    "We have a logbook for each panda and take notes on their physical and mental condition every 30 minutes," he said.

    Details recorded include when the bears relieve themselves.

    "We are not supposed to miss any possible indicator of disease or any delicate change of mood," Yang said.

    Telling the pandas apart also requires skill and experience.

    "There are three ways: Feature, color of fur and figure. We need to remember their names, birthdays, family trees and temperaments," Yang said.

    Yang said he is actually more like a kindergarten teacher than a handler.

    "Pandas have tempers. You need to understand them and guide them," he said.

    "Cubs at this age are not the most active. Pandas at the mating age are. We need to scrutinize every delicate change in their mood to make sure they don't fight with each other."

    Once the pandas grow up, they have a sense of identity and territory, he said. Which means it is also time to separate them into independent enclosures.

    "Pandas are wild animals, not pets. We are helping more people to understand them and helping pandas to return to the wild," Yang said.

    That is why Yang's career leaves him very little private time.

    "I don't have a girlfriend. A girlfriend will most certainly envy how much time I spend with the pandas," he said.

    In the past nine years, he has spent only three Spring Festivals with his family in Ya'an, his hometown in Sichuan province.

    "My parents and brothers are living in a prefabricated house after the earthquake in 2008," Yang said.

    "They told me they are doing well through the phone.

    "I miss them very much."

    Yang said when he thinks of his parents, he will look at his pandas.

    "I'm also a parent to the pandas," Yang said.

    "They need me, so I can't leave."

    Zoo director Pan Xiuyun also gave Yang and his colleagues three tickets each for the Expo Garden.

    "I can't spend several hours in the Expo Garden at one stretch," he said.

    "I have only half a day off when my panda shift is over, so three visits will allow me to see the whole area."