View from the Zoo: Target training is essential for animal welfare

Target sticks are used to guide red pandas around their enclosure.
Target sticks are used to guide red pandas around their enclosure.

This week we will be letting you know how we look after our very cute red pandas and the best time for you to see them when you visit us.

We have two red pandas here at Flamingo Land called Tai Jang our female who is five and our male Bai Jiao who is also five. We train our red pandas every day, encouraging them to come down from the trees, place their nose against our target stick then be hand fed a reward by our keepers. We do this every day at about 1.30pm which is the best time for the public to see the pandas in action.

The target stick is used to guide them around the enclosure, onto scales and into crates should we need to move them anywhere. Target training is very important for health checks and weighing animals. Females tend to be more confident and Tai Jang regularly comes down, touches the target stick with her nose and receives a reward. This training technique is called positive reinforcement and can be used for a whole range of species.

A favourite food is panda cake which consists of a variety of nutrients including protein, essential vitamins, minerals and high fibre. However bamboo, fruits, pellets and other leaves make up a majority of their diet.

The name panda is thought to be in reference to the Nepali word ponya from the phrase nigalya ponya, meaning “eater of bamboo”.

Just like the giant panda they share a similar diet however are very different in appearance. The red pandas are slightly more racoon looking and have a lovely red coat and long bushy tail which they can wrap round themselves like a duvet to keep warm. Their tails are used for balance as they spend most of their time up in the trees. Semi-retractable claws provide amazing grip and allows them to pull leaves off branches.

Bai Jiao moved here from Cotswold zoo and Tai Jang came here from Leipzig Zoo in Germany.

Sadly the reason we have a breeding pair of red pandas here at the zoo is because they are an endangered species with fewer than ten thousand left in the wild. They are poached for their fur and also taken from the wild as part of the illegal pet trade. Habitat loss is another huge factor in there decreasing population.