U.S.-born pandas grapple with culture shock in China

November 22, 2016, 12:02 p.m.
Mei Lun and Mei Huan eat at Zoo Atlanta
Photo: Zoo Atlanta/Facbeook

If you have pets, you know that changing foods is no easy task. If they eat it at all, they may nibble at it before sauntering over, as if to ask, "Where's the regular stuff?"

It turns out giant pandas are a lot like your dog, at least in that respect.

Mei Lun and Mei Huan, two pandas born at Zoo Atlanta in Georgia, are having trouble adjusting to their new environment at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan, China. The famous black-and-white creatures were transported there in early November as part of the panda conservation effort between the China and United States. Unfortunately, the pandas aren't acclimating particularly well.

First the food. The pandas loved American crackers so much that any food from China, be it apples or bamboo, has to be combined with the crackers, keeper Luo Yunhong told the People's Daily, China's state-run newspaper. Even their water needs the crackers included. Luo is slowly mixing Chinese bread with the crackers. Mei Huan is adapting to the changes, but Mei Lun isn't interested.

But it's not just the food; the two pandas aren't responding to the local Sichuan dialect spoken at the panda center, either. The Meis respond to their names and basic commands in English, such as "come here," but they do not respond to Chinese at all. So Luo is attempting to bridge the language barriers by starting with simple phrases in Chinese, including, "Have you eaten yet?"

So the next time you bring home a new bag of kibble for Fido or try to teach him a new trick, just remember that you're not alone. Change is hard, especially for panda keepers.