Giant Pandas Love Sugar
Spring has not even officially sprung yet, but zoos and aquariums nationwide are celebrating the births of baby animals.
The Oakland Zoo in California recently announced the birth of three meerkat pups, now part of the current mob (group of meerkats).
"It has been wonderful watching the mob raise the pups," zoological manager Victor Alm said. "It has truly been a collective effort and all the adults are taking their turns caring for and teaching the new pups their different roles and jobs needed to be a productive meerkat."
Clouded leopard cubs are a rite of spring at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's facility in Front Royal, Va.
The cubs are now part of an international program to conserve the species, which is threatened by deforestation and hunting.
Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park
"Wesa" the California condor chick is the first such chick of the season at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The chick is being "puppet reared."
"The puppet is like a fancy glove," explained Rob Webb, senior condor keeper, "It covers our hands so the chick does not get any beneficial experiences from people. We do not want it imprinting on people or getting used to us when it goes out into the wild. We want it to be a nice, wild animal, not relying on people for food."
A baby orangutan delivered by C-section is doing well at Zoo Atlanta. Mother Blaze, now recovered, spends most days running over to her son, squeaking softly to him, and then hugging him onto her chest.
Keepers are providing the baby boy with environmental enrichment so that he is stimulated both mentally and physically. He is fascinated by his own reflection in a provided mirror.
A juvenile harbor seal had a rough start to life. Found off the coast of Delaware, he was suffering from abrasions and a severe respiratory infection.
Thanks to round-the-clock care provided by dedicated staff at the National Aquarium's Marine Animal Rescue Program, he is now on the mend. He has been enjoying a hearty diet of smelt and herring fish.
Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Five lion cubs were recently born at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. During their last exam, the three females were found to weigh 19 to 22 pounds each, while the two males both came in at 23 pounds.
Mother "Mfisha" keeps the cubs in line and gently cleans each with her tongue.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park
A baby boy southern white rhino named "Kayode" is already said to be taking charge of his habitat at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in California.
"Kayode is a little tank, a very cute little tank, and he is showing lots of personality," said Jane Kennedy, lead keeper at the park.
"He loves running and interacting with his mom, sticking out his tongue, and showing the buffalo in his enclosure he's a rhino and he's in charge."
The giant Pacific octopus at the National Aquarium is just a baby, but as an adult it could weigh up to 90 pounds.
Aquarium staff members are providing enrichment to encourage cognitive development. One such brainteaser involves providing the octopus with a container in which food has been hidden. The octopus learns how to open the container and, with its 1,800 suction cups, finds the tasty fishy morsels.
The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans is proudly showing off its baby babirusa. Babirusas are forest-dwelling wild pigs native to Malaysia.
This youngster seems to follow mom wherever she goes in their sun-filled exhibit.
Five-week-old baby gorilla "Gladys Stones" is melting hearts at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.
She was actually born at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas, hence her first name. "Stones" is to recognize the Stones Family who cared for her during her first few weeks of life before she traveled to Cincinnati.
Gladys appears to be very happy at her new home, affectionately grabbing primate keepers by the shirt with her fingers.
Giant pandas spend most of their days chomping on bamboo, but a new study finds that they have a sweet tooth too.
The discovery, published in the latest PLoS ONE, explains why a baby giant panda at a U.S. zoo craves a certain sweet food.
“Pandas love sugar,” study author Danelle Reed of the Monell Chemical Senses Center said in a press release. “Our results can explain why Bao Bao, the 6-month-old giant panda cub at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is apparently relishing sweet potato as a first food during weaning.”
For the study, Reed and her colleagues presented eight giant pandas with two bowls of liquid. One contained plain water, while the other contained a solution of water mixed with one of six different natural sugars: fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, maltose and sucrose. Each sugar was presented at a low and a high concentration.
There is no doubt as to what the pandas like. They preferred all of the sugar solutions to plain water. This was especially evident for fructose and sucrose, as the animals quickly gulped down these sugary solutions within the respective five-minute test periods.
Another series of preference tests explored the pandas’ responses to five artificial sweeteners. There was little to no preference for most artificial sweetener solutions, suggesting that giant pandas cannot taste, or do not strongly perceive, these compounds as being sweet.
It could also be that the pandas perceived an “off taste” to the artificial sweeteners and went for the plain water instead.
Earlier DNA studies on giant pandas identified genes that code for the sweet taste receptor. These genes were isolated and then inserted into human host cells grown in culture. The cells responded vigorously to sugars, but not to most artificial sweeteners.
Giant pandas therefore have a fully operational sweet taste receptor. This is surprising, given that bamboo contains very small amounts of sugars and doesn’t taste sweet to humans. Researchers had therefore previously considered that giant pandas, which are in the taxonomic order Carnivora, had lost their sweet taste perception.
That’s what happened to wild cats, which must eat meat in order to survive. At some point during their evolution, they lost the ability to taste sweets. This is due to a genetic defect that deactivates the sweet taste receptor. It’s why cat food companies don’t market desserts for felines! Cats could care less.
Giant pandas, with their sweet tooth, could be more flexible than previously thought about their food choices. They might be able to transition to other food sources in different habitats.
As lead author Peihua Jiang, a molecular biologist at Montell, concluded: “This is the first study to address taste perception in the giant panda as it relates to feeding behavior. We hope to extend this research further to examine bitter taste perception. The results could have significant implications for the conservation of this endangered species as their natural habitats continue to be demolished.”
Photo: Wikimedia Commons