Panda's bowl of salad

Growing different species of bamboo to satisfy pandas’ appetites

Issue: May 2010

Volunteers from CapitaLand sharing with the children from the Canossaville Children’s Home about Earth Hour after their tour of the new green features fitted in the home by CapitaLand staff
Pandas feed on some 20 kilogrammes of bamboo a day

If you have been to the Singapore Zoo recently, you might have noticed that there are more bamboo plants sprouting on its grounds. Green pockets around the carpark, service areas and inside the Zoo and the Night Safari now serve as plots to grow the food for the two giant pandas, who will be making Singapore their new home for a period of 10 years.

Rehan Yusoff
Rehan Yusoff and his team have been busily planting thousands of clumps of bamboo on the zoo grounds

The pair, yet to be named, will be on loan from the Chinese government as a gesture of the close relationship between Singapore and China. CapitaLand has pledged a conservation donation to support this 10-year collaborative programme of the giant pandas.

So, one of the steps in preparation of their much anticipated arrival is to ensure they will be happy with what is served!

Bambusa glaucescens and Thyrsostachys Siamensis
Clumps of Bambusa glaucescens and Thyrsostachys Siamensis are being grown along the zoo’s carpark

“From past experience, we learned that the giant pandas favored hedge bamboo (Bambusa glaucescens) and Siamese bamboo (Thyrsostachys siamensis). Apart from the bamboos, the pandas' diet would comprise of vegetables and specialized foliovore biscuits,” recalls Rehan Yusoff, one of the curators at the horticulture department.

Rehan is referring to the two giant pandas, An An and Xin Xing, which came and spent three months in Singapore twenty years ago.

That is why for the past six months, the team of curators in the horticulture department of the Singapore Zoo has been busy planting different species of bamboo to feed their special guests.

Choice veggies

Bambusa ventricosa
Bambusa ventricosa (Buddha’s belly) is another favourite of most pandas as they have wide leaves and are juicy
Although there are over a thousand species of bamboo, four types have been identified by the team to be grown here : Bambusa ventricosa (Buddha’s belly), Phyllostachys sulphurea (Ougon-Kou Chiku Bamboo), Bambusa glaucescens (hedge bamboo) and Thyrsostachys siamensis (Siamese bamboo).

“We have sent these four samples with the team of curators from the zoo that has gone over to China on its first study trip. We want to make sure that what we are growing now will satisfy them,” reveals Rehan.

It is known, though, that the daily needs for an adult panda is about 20 kilogrammes of bamboo browse. So the horticulture team is currently hard at work, trying to grow enough bamboo to meet the two pandas’ needs.

“A mature clump of bamboo has between 120-150 stems. 20 kilogramme of bamboo browse would require some 100 stems. For this, we would need to establish a total of 5400 clumps of bamboos or some 7920 metre-square (approximately 0.8 hectares) of land space for the bamboo cultivation,” says Rehan.

Currently, the team has successfully managed to grow some 1,100 clumps of the four species of bamboo although there are already some existing bamboo plants at the Zoo.

Bamboo space

A tall order of planting 5,000 clumps of bamboo on every available space on the zoo grounds
A tall order of planting 5,000 clumps of bamboo on every available space on the zoo grounds
Every available space within the Zoo, Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and even the yet to be completed River Safari has been used or designated as “bamboo space”.

“Because of the huge amount that is required, we need to make sure we have enough clumps grown so that we give each plot time to regenerate. How much we harvest also depends on the density and height of the plants,” says Rehan.

Rehan estimates that a mature clump of, say, the hedge bamboo including stems and leaves, can yield about five kilogrammes of food. So they will need about eight clumps of bamboo to meet the two pandas’ daily needs.

Shooting fast

The good news is Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. Depending on the species, some are known to grow half to one metre a day.

Bambusa glaucescens and Thyrsostachys Siamensis
Looking brown and black from playing in the garden with other baby pandas, this cub is one of the two coming to the Singapore Zoo for a period of 10 years.

“Bamboos can be harvested on a three to six months cycle. We grow all our bamboo organically so we do need to allow nature to play its part. We are planning for more, of course, in case of emergencies,” Rehan explains.

And the team is working hard to meet their 5,000-clump target.

So, the next time you visit the Zoo, take notice of the different types of bamboo that not only add to the already luscious landscape, they are indeed part of panda’s salad bowl next year.

Stay tuned to our next update in this special Panda Conservation series as we give you a glimpse of the cuddly duo with our team from the Wildlife Reserves Singapore in China. The team will also be giving us more a report about their first meeting with the bears!

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