PICTURES, VIDEO

Zoo sets up CCTV for shy Jia Jia in River Safari panda exhibit

FOR the past six months, visitors to the River Safari's panda exhibit have not seen much of one half of its cuddly duo.

Shy four-year-old Jia Jia has been retreating into her den so often that a closed-circuit television camera (CCTV) has been installed inside it.

Visitors can now watch her through a live feed on a screen next to her enclosure, which is linked to her 15 sq m den.

"(Male panda) Kai Kai is more outgoing and visitors can see his different antics, from chewing on his bamboo to taking a nap, in visible locations in his exhibit," said River Safari assistant director of zoology Ang Cheng Chye.

"Jia Jia, on the other hand, is more shy and reserved. As such, we added a CCTV live feed in February to allow visitors to have a peek into her private quarters."

When the pair arrived last September - on a 10-year loan from China - five-year-old Kai Kai was already known to be easy-going while Jia Jia was cautious and wary. Since then, the keepers have learnt more about the pandas' personalities through their daily interaction.

"The pandas are able to recognise the keepers' voices well and they do respond to their names," said Mr Ang.

He added that both pandas have adapted well to their new home and the zoology team keeps a close watch on their physical and psychological conditions to ensure they are comfortable.

The pandas' home, the 1,500 sq m Giant Panda Forest, has welcomed 250,000 visitors since opening on Nov 29.

The enclosure also houses two golden pheasants and two red pandas.

The rest of the River Safari - nestled between the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari - is expected to open by the end of this month.

"We expect visitorship to remain high during weekends and the upcoming school holidays in June," said Ms Isabel Cheng, chief marketing officer of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which owns the River Safari.

When The Straits Times visited the zoo on a weekday afternoon during the school holidays last week, Kai Kai was munching on bamboo stalks as visitors on an elevated boardwalk overlooking the enclosure snapped away with their cameras.

Jia Jia was nowhere to be seen.

Marketing executive Shandy Tee saw only one panda but said she was fascinated by the way Kai Kai ate and was impressed by details in the $8.6 million enclosure such as the bamboo leaf-prints on the ceiling.

But her Son Travis, eight, was disappointed.

Said the Primary 3 pupil: "Why can't Jia Jia be called Sleeping Beauty instead since she likes to sleep in her den?"

mellinjm@sph.com.sg