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The panda keeper who cares for the bears

2020-06-01 14:14:00China Daily

Dressed in a mask, gloves and dark green clothing, Yao Xin strolled around the panda playground clutching bamboo shoots and tried to find a perfect place to hide the food from her four "babies".

A short time later, a panda wandered into the area, sniffed around, picked up a piece and bit into it.

Yao, 23, is a panda keeper at the Xining Wildlife Park in Qinghai province. The panda house has four large inhabitants born at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan province.

To provide a safe environment for pandas and help them adapt to the climate of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the house has everything in place for the animals, including fresh bamboo airlifted from Chengdu every two days.

Yao and her colleagues take shifts to tend to the pandas' outdoor and indoor areas, make cakes and prepare bamboo for them.

For Yao, becoming a panda keeper was unexpected.

After graduating with a nursing degree in 2017, Yao worked at a health center before seeing an advertisement for a panda keeper in 2018.

"I had been caring for people, but taking care of these precious animals was a whole new story. I was afraid that I would be unable to do the job well," Yao said.

In time, however, her self-doubt was dispelled.

Bai Tao, who is in charge of the panda house, said Yao is diligent and excels at her job. She was one of 100 applicants for the job. Though she did not have any training in animal science, her hospital internship and work experience at the health center put her in good stead, Bai said.

Yao and the other inductees went to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding to undergo training for six months before starting their jobs. Her training included looking after panda cubs and being able to distinguish between different types of bamboo.

Yao works long hours and is sometimes required to do a night shift. "It seems to outsiders like a very interesting job, but it's also tiring," she said.

During the night shift, she has to refill the water and put out bamboo shoots for the pandas every two hours.

Yao said while the pandas are adorable "most of the time" sometimes they can be troublemakers, such as in March when one of them snapped a tree in the outdoor playground.

When the females are in heat the pandas become anxious and need to separated, she said, adding the bears need to be shown patience.

Yao keeps a work journal and a personal log filled with 400 pages of "sweet memories" of raising the pandas.

Every time Yao gets off work, she stands by one of the enclosure windows and gazes at the pandas for a little while. When she has a day off, she asks her colleagues about the condition of the pandas and watches short videos of them on social media.

"Only through constant learning, patience and persistence can we excel in our jobs. The more we do, the more comfortable and happy the pandas will be," Yao said.

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