Nuan Nuan’s weaning from her mother Feng Yi began on 10 July 2017. Since then, the progress has been quite fast, almost like it’s on a fast track.
I was there on 11 July and saw how she hadn’t liked being indoors while mama was outside in the yard. She had vocalised quite aggressively, enough for mama to hear her. But instead of letting her out, the keepers waited till she calmed down, otherwise, she would repeat the same vocalisation every time she wanted to get her way. So that day, Nuan Nuan came outside around 1:00 p.m. Mama greeted her with a kiss, and the two behaved like they’d not seen each other for far more than just a few hours.
The next time I was at the panda complex a week later, two friends were visiting. I told them Nuan Nuan would be coming out to the yard after the 11:30 a.m. call-in, only to be informed that the hours had been extended to five; she would only be coming out after the 2:30 p.m. call-in. This time, there was no incident and both walked out together at around 2:40 p.m.
I was there again just four days later. The previous day, I’d been in contact with a reporter from The Star who wanted to visit the panda complex to do a story about Nuan Nuan’s return to China. We arranged to meet at 11:30 a.m. before I remembered the new “coming out” time. I messaged to tell the reporter. The next morning, I walked into the panda hall to find both mother and toddler in the yard. Alamak, what’s going on? Turns out they’ve changed the schedule again; both of them would now come out together in the morning, and then, at the 11:30 a.m. call-in, Feng Yi would go in and then spend the rest of the day indoors while Nuan Nuan would be left on her own in the yard. That day was the first day of the new schedule.
Initially, there was concern that Nuan Nuan would look for her mother. The keepers hung around in the hall to keep an eye on her. She went to sleep and all was well. But maybe she would look for her mother after she woke up? She didn’t. Instead, she spent the afternoon entertaining herself around the yard, eating, and then climbing the tree structure. She gave the visitors lots of photos opportunities. The Star reporter commented that she seemed to pose for them.
Waiting to go in at the right time but it was the wrong day
Around 4:30 p.m., I saw Nuan Nuan in front of the door, looking like she knew it was time to go in for the day. She got the time right but the day wrong. On weekends, exhibit time is an extra hour so she was early. No matter, she went back to the yard and to what she was doing all afternoon.
At around 5:45 p.m., when it was time to go in for the day, the door opened and closed a few times. Finally, it looked like Nuan Nuan knew it was time to go in. She made her way from the middle tier of the platform, across the yard and past the door into the tunnel towards the den area. But then she stopped and looked back. Was she waiting for mama to go in with her? They do sometimes spend time in their own space in the yard so perhaps that was what she did all afternoon while thinking mama was in the yard with her. And then whoever was in charge of the door did not close it and suddenly she turned and walked back out. Not to look for mama but to climb up the tree structure. Maybe she thought she could get a better view to look for mama up there.
“Hey, mama, it’s time to go in. Where are you?”
Since March, I’ve cut down on the number of days I volunteer at the panda complex to at least once a month, to photograph Nuan Nuan on the same date, the 18th, the date of her birth in August 2015. But this month, I’ve been there four days, three of them when something new happened and I feel blessed to have been present to see it.
Meanwhile, one of the transport carriers that brought her parents to Malaysia in May 2014 has been spotted in the back area of the panda complex. Training has started for her to get familiar with the carrier, first by letting her explore, and then bit by bit, getting her to sit in there for longer and longer periods of time. When it’s time for her to be flown back, she will be spending four and a half hours in the carrier, plus whatever time before lift-off and after touchdown.
While many of her fans are sad she is being returned to China, they should celebrate that she is also entering the next phase of her life, one that will include seeing other cubs her age for the first time and maybe being socialised to live in a group with some of them, or at least with one other panda cub from her birth year. Exciting days ahead for Nuan Nuan, her keepers, me, and hopefully, you, too.