Tuesday, March 1, 2016

2016 Connecting with Animals Calendar – March Story

Er Shun in her "Mona Lisa" pose

Last month I posted some "bonus material" of the white lion cubs that were born last fall. This set off quite a "Baby Boom" at the Toronto Zoo and the next to appear were two tiny but adorable giant panda cubs, born in the early morning hours of October 13, 2015, to the beautiful 8-year-old Er Shun, this month's "featured animal", It's especially good timing that I chose March as her month because those same bundles of cute – the first ever born in Canada – will make their official public debut on March 12th. Of course, by then they will already have been viewed in their exhibit by Zoo staff, volunteers, members, friends of members, and anyone watching one of presumably several dinner-hour newscasts on March 7th, the day the media and "VIPs" get to see them. This is known in the biz as a "soft open" (and all of those other viewings will take place in March as well). But "officially"? March 12th, the first Saturday of March Break here in Toronto. And now, about this photo above....

Da Mao out for a stroll in the snow
I try very hard (and for the most part have succeeded) not to include any fencing or wires or such distracting items of "containment" in my calendar photos. This photo (left) of Da Mao which I took a couple of years ago is a good example. It's not always easy and in some cases requires some adjustment in "post-production", but in the case of March's photo I thought the shot was so strong in and of itself that the fence behind Er Shun's exhibit just sort of fades into the background. And it's easily the best shot I have ever taken of her, in my opinion. I took several shots of her on this January afternoon, a day warm enough that she chose to spend time outside in her "front yard" rather than stay inside her day room. As is the norm for both of our giant pandas, in most of the pictures she is eating or selecting her food, because pandas have to eat for about 14-16 hours a day just to sustain basic bodily functions (and they sleep for the other 8-10 hours). Panda bears have a diet which consists of bamboo virtually exclusively; however, they lack the proper herbivore's digestive system to extract the maximum nutrition and energy from their food. They have adapted in many ways to this diet, but they still must eat or forage for nearly every waking hour of their lives. They also poop up to 40 times a day, a fact which causes much amusement to pretty much every school group I have ever led through the Panda Interpretive Centre.

So it's very rare for me to capture an image of them in which they are looking directly at the camera. It's rarer still for Er Shun to do this while sitting outside on her wooden climbing apparatus, in full view of the wonderful picture window that the Zoo installed a few months after their arrival, replacing the screen that made it exceptionally difficult to take a clear, crisp photo of this beautiful lady. And when you take all of that rarity into consideration and mix it with an imitation of La Gioconda's enigmatic little grin, well....you get the image you see above. I am exceptionally pleased with this shot!

Here are a couple of other "finalists" for the honour of "Requisite Panda Photo" in this year's calendar:

Er Shun, looking like a Ken Do warrior

Da Mao happily snoozing in his beloved snow

Another eye-contact shot of Er Shun; this time she's eating!

Now. About those cubs.....

Day 1: the boy is on the left, girl on the right

Week 6: "twin-swapping", one cub with mom at a time

Week 16: Play time!

These photos (and many, many others) can be found on the Toronto Zoo's website. There are videos there, too, including this one, narrated by Maria Franke, which is currently being shown in the Panda Interpretive Centre:

As I write this, in late February, there is still a naming contest going on...but it will be over by the time this posts. Sometime in March we will learn which names were chosen. And then we'll all finally get to see them live and in person. Which will be pretty awesome, I'm not going to lie to you, but...I'm waiting for my first glimpse of our brand-new baby Indian rhino boy.

But then, if you've been following this blog, you already knew all about that.... :)

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