I made my way to the zoo’s Education Department to be briefed about the Giant Panda Keeper Experience at Zoo Negara. After changing into my uniform, I was ready to meet the pandas!
There were a total of three participants (that’s the maximum number allowed at this stage of the programme), and each of us was tasked with a specific responsibility in cleaning the den. And I had the most important duty of them all–I had to clear away the panda poop!
As I was clearing the den of its droppings, I noticed what came out from the pandas were almost identical to what went in. The zoo keepers explained that even though bamboo is the pandas’ favourite food, they are unable to digest it properly, which was why they are fed with other food items such as carrots, apples, and panda cake, which we were going to bake later. Everything is properly measured and catalogued, from the amount of food they ate to the characteristics of the poop!
After we made sure the den was spotless, it was now time to prepare the food. The bamboo is locally grown in Seremban and then kept in a cool storage area at the zoo to avoid it from getting moldy. We had to scrub the bamboo with water, and then sawed it into shorter pieces, before chopping it in half, making it convenient for the pandas to consume.
We then entered the panda’s main area where we were instructed to locate panda poop and remove it. Since I already did that earlier, I was given another task: to place the panda treats in strategic places so that pandas can go around searching for it, in a way making them get off their lazy panda butts and exercise!
As mentioned, we would be making panda cakes, which I was excited about! Not only would I be able to put my baking skills to the test for the first time in my life, but I would also be baking for pandas! Now, how many of you could say that? The process of making the panda cake is similar to baking any type of cake. You measure the dry ingredients, beat the egg and mixed it all together. The batter is then baked for a total of 3 hours before its left to cool. I even tried the end product myself and to be honest, it tastes like bread but with a harder texture.
It was a great way to spend the day, taking care of the pandas and speaking with the zoo keepers. At the end of the programme, not only did I get a better understanding of these gentle giants but also a new-found respect for the zoo keepers who work around the clock to make sure the animals are fed and taken care of properly.
The volunteer programme costs RM150 per person and all participants will get a limited edition Zoo Negara t-shirt, two meals (breakfast and lunch), a certificate and an opportunity to spend an entire day with the pandas! This educational programme is limited to only three people per day, and volunteers are prohibited from getting close to the pandas for safety concerns.
If you want to be part of the Giant Panda Keeper Experience at Zoo Negara, please call the zoo’s Education Department at 03-4108 3422 or email them at [email protected] to book a date with the giant pandas! At the time of the writing, they have been fully booked till May so better hurry if you want to reserve your place for this one-of-a-kind experience in Malaysia!
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Kuala Lumpur from various destinations. For lowest fares and flight info, head to airasia.com