The names for our black and white “permanent residents” were selected from 1,000 entries received during a nationwide naming contest. Our male was named Kai Kai, which means ‘victorious’ in Chinese, while Jia Jia (meaning ‘beautiful’) was chosen for our female.
Kai Kai and Jia Jia are on a 10-year loan from China and their auspicious names bode well for the friendship between China and Singapore. Singapore is the ninth country to receive panda loans from China.
Since their arrival in Singapore, our vets and keepers have been busy getting the pandas up to speed on routine medical training. They are trained to be weighed, and quite amiably allow keepers to check their teeth, paws and other body parts. Jia Jia is now trained for procedures such as ultrasound and urine collection, while Kai Kai cooperates for a dental X-ray. Both pandas also accede to teeth brushing and will even get in position for an injection, albeit with some protest!
When Kai Kai first arrived, he preferred to partake of his meals in privacy and would retreat to a quiet spot to dine solo. Now, he is more outgoing and openly chews his bamboo or takes a nap in full view of visitors. But life has not been entirely relaxing for our lovable male, who’s been dubbed “Mr Onion Head” for the tuft of fur on his head. To improve his stamina and strength, Kai Kai’s keepers trained him to ‘squat’ on his hind legs for a few seconds at a go.
These squat exercises served to strengthen Kai Kai’s hind quarters, to help improve success rates during mating. However, he was found to be relying too much on his forelimbs to hoist himself up so his keepers have since progressed him on to the next level - the ‘crab walk’. For this exercise, Kai Kai practises walking sideways along the wall, which helps build more strength in his hind legs and overall endurance.
Humans destroy, but humans can also choose to protect. Concerted conservation efforts have lifted the panda’s status from endangered to vulnerable. Having the pandas under human care contributes to valuable knowledge of the species, which can then be put to good use in conservation initiatives in the wild.