The moment we’ve been waiting for

Feng Yi and her baby are now on display together in the giant panda complex in Zoo Negara Malaysia. They are in the yard twice a day for an hour each, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. They officially made their public debut on 8 February, the first day of Chinese New Year 2016.

Before this, the baby was on display on her own in a special room every afternoon for an hour. During that hour, mama was also on display in the yard, enjoying some “me” time for herself.

The baby made her personal debut in the room on 17 November 2015, the day before she turned three months old. This special display went on till late January 2016 when the team started trial runs in the yard for the official Chinese New Year debut.

It has been an interesting experience to watch and document her growth in confidence during this time in the viewing room. Here are three videos showing how she’s grown. The first, of her public debut, shows a slightly different story than the official one of her having slept through it. The other two videos are taken approximately a month apart from that first viewing.

The way Feng Yi’s baby has been on display – first on her own in a special room and then together with mama in the yard – is different from how other cubs are displayed back in China and also in other zoos that have giant pandas and cubs.

In Bifengxia Panda Base, cubs on display in the nursery are either single cubs rejected by their mothers and hand-raised by humans or one half of twins currently on rotation in the nursery while the other half is with their mother. This is a system called swap rearing that came about because panda mothers can only care for one cub; if a panda mother has twins, the younger or weaker twin is usually abandoned. This is what happens in the wild which has led to the misbelief that pandas only have single cubs. In fact, pandas often have twins. In captive breeding, swap rearing was developed to give both twins a better chance at survival.

In zoos that have giant panda exhibits with cubs, such as San Diego Zoo and the National Zoo in Washington, DC, the panda teams have left it to the mummy to decide the best time to bring her cub/s out for public display.

In the case of Zoo Negara Malaysia’s giant panda complex, the team had wanted to give Feng Yi and her baby as much privacy as possible. The Zoo has also practised a low-key approach to publicity, with few updates, including photos, of mother and baby. Thus, with the public clamouring to see the baby, the Zoo decided to put the baby on display. But at three months, she was too young to be in the yard. Hence, the viewing room, and the resulting different approach from either China or other countries with giant pandas. But it seemed to have worked. Besides, mother and baby are now on public display. The baby is no more a mystery as some have claimed her to be.

Coming soon: more videos