From 197 delicate grams to 80-plus sturdy kilograms — that is how much growing Fu Bao, the panda born two years ago at Panda World in Everland Zoo’s Zootopia, has done so far. Zootopia, by the way, is a portmanteau of zoo and utopia(Zoo+Utopia). It is no exaggeration to say that a Zootopia fandom was created at the birth of Fu Bao, and Panda World is crowded with enthusiastic fans who want to see her.
With a name that means a treasure that gives happiness, and that is written 福宝 in Chinese, Fu Bao celebrated her second birthday on July 20. July is extra special for the pandas in Everland because all the birthdays of the family are in July. Fu Bao’s mother’s birthday is on July 13th, Fu Bao’s is on July 20th, and Fu Bao’s father’s is on July 28th. On each panda’s birthday this year, the zookeepers presented a specially made bamboo birthday cake that the pandas enjoyed together.
Enriching the lives of zoo animals
The dedication of Panda World zookeepers to create “enrichment” for the pandas is indispensable for pandas to stay healthy and happy. Even since before the social awareness of animal welfare expanded, Everland has constantly introduced its animals to behavior enrichment activities. This is because these activities can relieve the stress of animals in zoos, develop their brains, and give them good exercise.
Thanks to her healthy diet of bamboo shoots and the lots of exercise and play that are part of enrichment, Fu Bao has been able to grow up big and strong. Countless enriching creations have been given to the pandas in Everland, including basket swings, bamboo lollipops, flower crowns, a cool bamboo pillow, and slides.
In the United states, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute defines enrichment as “a creative outlet for physical activity and mental exercise, as well as choice and control over how they spend their time.” It is a broad concept but includes almost anything that engages an animal’s mind as well as body. Examples of enrichment cited by the Smithsonian are “puzzle feeders that encourage animals to forage for food, climbing structures that enhance habitats, and training sessions where animals can interact with keepers.”
The goal of enrichment is to help animals at zoos and conservation parks pass the time in interesting and active ways. This is because enrichment plays an important role in the welfare of animals, just like the right food and health care. Luckily for visitors, enrichment also makes their viewing experience more interesting and enjoyable.
Two keepers = double the enrichment
Animals are the most important customers for zookeepers. So zookeepers always think about how to make the animals’ zoo lives more enjoyable.
Two zookeepers, Kang Cheol-won and Song Young-kwan, are so busy taking care of the panda family day and night that they are recognized as members of the Bao family with the honorary names Kang Bao and Song Bao. As Fu Bao’s daily carers, the men understand the value and importance of enrichment for Fu Bao and other animals in their care.
They are the major inventors behind the clever ideas for Fu Bao’s enrichment. And while their goals are the same, their thinking processes and preferred fields of endeavor differ a little from each other.
Zookeeper Kang Chul-won, or Kang Bao, uses natural materials to engage Fu Bao. He plants beautiful flowers that bloom in spring, brings in colorful autumn leaves in the fall, and makes sure there is plenty of snow for Fu Bao to enjoy in the winter.
Meanwhile, Song Yeong-gwan(Song Bao), likes to keep up with trends. Song Bao came up with the fun ideas such as frozen cold noodles, bamboo leaf mojitos, and traditional Korean New Year’s games for pandas.
In addition, the zookeepers came up with trendy and brilliant ideas such as “fortune sticks” instead of fortune cookies seen at the beginning of the year, and ice dalgona inspired by the Korean confectionary recently featured on the popular TV series “Squid Game.”
They also get ideas from watching pandas at play and from observing their natural behavior. The inspiration for frozen boot-shaped iced treats filled with bamboo leaves came from a popular video showing Fu Bao hanging on to one of the zookeeper’s boots and begging him to play with her.
Asked recently to name their favorite enrichment item given to the Bao family, Song Bao named the floral crown made of clover each May. He said it makes the beauty of Fu Bao stand out even more. Kang Bao, on the other hand, mentioned the rapeseed flower garden that he planted each year since Fu Bao’s parents, mother Ai Bao and father Le Bao, came to Everland in 2017. Rapeseed flowers are prominent in China where the pandas come from, so their fragrance will remind them of their homeland and make them feel at home here.
Zootopia: Creating a happy place for animals and people
The tasks of a zookeeper never seem to run out. Simply the work of taking care of the animals, feeding them, and keeping their environment clean is already such that there are barely enough hours in the day to do it all. Nevertheless, Kang Bao and Song Bao are second to none in their sincere desire to make Fu Bao, Ai Bao, and Le Bao as happy as can be. In outlining what needs to be taken into consideration when developing a successful enrichment item, Kang Bao emphasizes three things to consider: Will the animal be curious and play with it? Is it safe for the animal? And is it safe for the people who made it?
In the case of Fu Bao’s hammock, they found that ready-made ones were not fit for purpose because they were either uncomfortable or there was a concern that her paws might get caught in the holes, so they made one especially. Fu Bao is clearly fond of her hammock.
Like Kang and Song, the zookeepers in Everland all work hard to ensure that the lives of their charges are enriched with objects that engage their minds and bodies, enabling them to play and enjoy their days.