If, as the newspapers have reported, Fu Wa and Feng Yi will be arriving in April, and putting 30th as the latest date this can happen before April makes way for May, then we are looking at a 10-week countdown.
Four weeks before departure, they will be moved into quarantine at Bifengxia’s sister base in Dujiangyan.
Meanwhile, the final bits and pieces are being put in place at their future home in Zoo Negara Malaysia.
And Feng Yi’s two little toddlers will be off to kindergarten soon.
There has been some criticism that Fu Wa’s and Feng Yi’s move to Malaysia will “force” Feng Yi and her cub to be separated too soon. But the timing has turned out to be just right. Both Feng Er and Little Zhuang Mei have turned six months which is when cubs in Bifengxia “graduate” to kindergarten.
Captive-born panda cubs are weaned from their mothers at six months so that the mothers can have babies again the following year. Whenever this is mentioned, panda fans protest that it is too soon because in the wild, cubs are with their mummies until they are 18 months old. Zoos in the west that have giant pandas follow this “wild” practice. But the panda reserves in China have a sound reason for this six-month separation period: it is to increase the giant panda numbers.
After being weaned at one-third the time of their wild cousins, captive-born cubs move onto the next phase of their lives. Because quite a few cubs are born the same year, they are then put together in what has come to be called panda kindergarten. So they are not left alone but are put together to eat, play and fight with one another.
There will be at least five cubs entering kindergarten in Bifengxia soon, the five that have been living at the new breeding centre. Although 17 cubs were born and survived in Bifengxia and Hetaoping last year, some are in the reintroduction programme in Hetaoping and some are in the semi-wild environment in New Leopard Mountain, leaving these five as the ones most likely to “graduate”.
Na Na’s cub, the youngest of these five, will turn six months on 27 February. Perhaps the five will be moved to the kindergarten on that date, or soon after. Perhaps they are already there. I don’t know, but I will find out when I’m there in a few days’ time.
Only four cubs that have been living at the new breeding centre qualify for Bifengxia’s panda kindergarten. The fifth cub and her mother Ying Hua belong to Beijing Zoo.