Giant panda Jiajia eats bamboo with her son in Shanghai Wild Animal Park in East China's Shanghai. (Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn)
When a truck loaded with bamboo arrived at Shanghai Zoo on Wednesday, Pei Enle, president of the zoo, was relieved that the pandas would have enough food at least for the next week.
The two giant pandas, together with 11 red pandas, were about to finish all the bamboo in storage as the closed-loop management of the zoo had been prolonged into a sixth week due to the current outbreak of COVID-19 in Shanghai.
"The lockdown of the city posed some challenges to the feeding of animals in the zoo, especially for pandas that live specially on bamboo," Pei said, adding that previously the zoo bought bamboo every week from Anji, Zhejiang province.
The zoo had stored some 1,000 kilograms of bamboo leaves and 750 kg of bamboo shoots before the lockdown started on April 1, and since then the keepers have been cutting small bamboo plants in the zoo to supplement supplies.
But it was still not enough to keep up with the daily consumption of some 50 kg of bamboo by the pandas.
"With support from related departments, we got a pass to go to Sheshan Forest Farm and cut bamboo there," Pei said. "The problem is now solved."
Getting bamboo for pandas was just one of the many problems overcome by Pei and his 300-strong team to keep life for the 5,000 animals in the zoo as smooth as usual.
Each day the animals consume more than 400 kg of vegetables, 250 kg of fruit and 650 kg of meat, as well as other staple foods.
"In addition to quantity, the unique habits of the different species required us to also ensure the quality and variety of food," said Zhou Ying, who is responsible for the animals' food supply.
Since the lockdown, Zhou and her colleagues have constantly been on the phone with different vendors and suppliers to coordinate food purchases.
"Despite the rise in food prices and unpredictable delivery time, we managed to cope with the problem with our large warehouse and cold storage," Pei said.
Apart from securing the food, ensuring enough manpower to handle the daily chores has been another headache for the zoo since March when the sporadic hot spots of the COVID-19 outbreak caused the sudden quarantine of residential compounds, stopping many animal keepers from coming to work.
Different zones have minimum requirements of personnel to ensure safety, and unfamiliar keepers might trigger an animal's stress reaction, according to Pei.
The elephant enclosure, for example, requires at least three keepers to tend, because elephants have volatile emotions, and keepers who are familiar with the animals know their specific habits and moods and can reduce potential risks.
"Many members of the Communist Party of China and young workers have taken the initiative to stick to their posts in the zoo," Pei said, adding that around 110 keepers have lived in the park since the lockdown.
Many keepers slept on office sofas or in tents in the areas they work. Xiong Zhijie, who works at the amphibian enclosure, has been sleeping in the zone since March 27.
"Some colleagues have family to take care of, and I'm fit to stay since I'm single," said Xiong, whose work includes feeding snakes, cleaning the turtle enclosure and disinfecting the environment.
Despite the zoo being closed to the public, Wu Tong, the education and publicity officer of the zoo, has broadcast 10 livestreams and published a vlog series in the past month.
Through cameras, tens of thousands of people have watched the penguins strolling the quiet park, 2-month-old Arctic wolf cubs playing in the nursery, baboons fighting for domination and lion cubs learning to hunt prey.
"We want to provide people a window to peek into the animals' lives while the zoo's gate is closed," Wu said. "I hope the videos can keep people who are confined at home optimistic about life."