SINGAPORE: Seeing Singapore’s giant panda Jia Jia “struggle” with motherhood takes Wildlife Reserves Singapore’s (WRS) lead panda caregiver Trisha Tay back to the time when she herself was a new mother.
“I can go back to the days when I first had a newborn baby and had to struggle with waking up and tending to the needs of the baby and just trying to figure things out," said Ms Tay.
“I see that happening for Jia Jia. On days where she’s really tired and the cub calls, she will actually give a deep sigh like it’s time to wake up and tend to the cub. So I can feel for her and empathise with her because I’ve gone through that as well.”
To support Jia Jia, keepers have been offering her fluids, affection and words of encouragement to help her get through the “crucial period” of caring for the newborn, she added.
The cub was born on Aug 14, nine years after Jia Jia and Kai Kai arrived in Singapore in 2012. While there have been annual attempts to encourage them to mate since 2015, giant pandas are notoriously difficult to breed.
Ms Tay has cared for Kai Kai and Jia Jia since they arrived in Singapore and has seen them through all seven breeding seasons.
In a news release on Thursday (Aug 19), WRS said that Jia Jia has shown “great maternal instincts”.
“Her mothering skills are improving from day to day. Despite looking visibly tired, her carers report that she is more relaxed and has been able to rest better, while continuing to be very attentive to her cub,” said WRS.
“WE WERE WORRIED”
Keepers were not always so optimistic about the birth.
In fact, Ms Tay was “really worried” initially as she was not sure how Jia Jia, as a first-time mother, would respond to the cub.
“We were worried that she (would be) either possibly aggressive, she might abandon the cub, or she would take good care of it ... (When) we saw her picking up the cub so gently and just seeing her care for it, it was really a big sigh of relief for all of us.”
They were also worried about the possibility of her “squashing” the cub.
So the team would check in on Jia Jia and the cub regularly to make sure that they were in the right position and that the cub was safe.
She added that the team was glad to see Jia Jia “growing” in her motherhood, because they could tell that she was “really tired” in the first few days after the birth.
“As the days go by, we see her being very very mindful of the vocalisations of the cub. She would pick the cub up whenever it calls and she would try to sit up and nurse it.
“We see her taking care of it and trying to help it defecate and just caring and doing a good job of being a mother,” said Ms Tay.