by Ann Christine Tabaka
Tim Tang and Tam Ting were two-year-old panda bears that were relocated from the lush green forests of the Gansu province in China, to a zoo in the eastern United States of America. They were purchased at a great price with hopes of their mating and producing young pandas. They were both healthy and beautiful specimens of their species. Their thick soft coats of white with black accents sparkled in the sunlight. When captured, they displayed all the excellent qualities that the purchasing zoo was looking for. Tam Ting was romping and playing with her sister, under her mother’s watchful eyes. Tim Tang was racing other male pandas up the mountain sides competing for the tastiest bamboo plants. All of that was to change soon.
The long arduous airplane trips, while stuck in small cages, in the dark cargo holds was not very pleasant for either of them. They arrived at BMI airport in Baltimore one day apart. From the day they were first captured, everything was very strange to them; the sounds, the smells, the humans bustling all around jabbering. They were very confused, and could not understand a word that the furless ones were uttering. They wondered what was happening to them.
Tam Ting hung her head low. She was very depressed because she was taken away from her mother and sister. She did not know what she did wrong to deserve this great punishment. She moped and would not respond to any stimulus. Tim Tang was furious because he was just becoming old enough to challenge other male pandas for territory and females. He ranted and raged the entire time in his small cage. Neither panda was very happy about the situation they were thrust into. No one asked them if they wanted to leave their family and homes in the mountain forests. One day they were living a normal panda life, and the next day everything was turned upside down.
Tim Tang and Tam Ting were cordial enough when they were first introduced to each other. They calmly exchanged pleasantries, and asked where each had lived before. They even knew a few of the same panda families. Both were too distraught to be more interested in each other, so after a short but friendly chat, each walked away to seek out their own corner of the zoo’s panda compound. The compound was set up with treed hills to climb, and a small spring with fresh running water. There was a large patch of ripe bamboo plants ready for munching on, and a section where more bamboo was being grown to replace the eaten plants. There was a small cave under the artificial hill that they could use for shelter. It was designed to look as closely to their native habitat as possible. But neither panda was fooled. They knew it wasn’t home. They decided to plot a way to escape and return to their real home.
Many weeks passed and the pandas showed no interest in being together or mating. The zoo management and vet grew concerned. The pandas didn’t fight or spit, but they just did not show an ounce of affection towards each other. They often sat in the same area, but several feet apart with their backs turned toward each other. They would occasionally turn to speak to each other out of loneliness. Tam Ting would often ask Tim Tang, “Why would they do this to us? Do they hate our kind so much as to separate us from everything that we love?” Tim Tang would just shrug and shake his head before lying down and curling up into a ball to take a nap out of boredom.
Three months passed, and winter was nearing. It was getting cold, but the pandas did not mind the cold. One day a tiny black and white tuxedo kitten came strolling in through the zoo’s large black iron gates. She squeezed through easily enough. She wasn’t sure where she was, or where she should go to next. She wandered around looking into all the animal pits and cages thinking to herself, “That is no way for such big magnificent animals to live.” She was too frightened to try to make friends with the huge polar bears, plus their compound was too cold and icy. She said “Hello,” then moved along. The tigers were too scary, even though they were feline like she was, and the bison did not look much like the friendly sort. Then she came upon the panda’s compound and looked in. Tam Ting looked so sad, that the poor little kitten could not help herself. She jumped right in, sauntered up to the young panda and said “Hello, I am all alone and I would like to be your friend, if you would let me.” Tam Ting sat straight up looking surprised and replied, “Who and what are you? You look like a baby panda with your black and white coloring.” The kitten replied, “I am a cat. I do not know my name since my mother, brothers and sisters were captured two nights ago, but I escaped. I do not know where they are and I am cold and lonely.” Tam Ting lit up and asked, “May I give you a name?” The kitten thought about it for a few seconds then said, “Yes, I would be happy to have a name.” Tam Ting said, “Your eyes are the color of the rare pale jade in my homeland; I will call you Bik, which means jade in my native language.” “Oh, I love that name” the kitten announced, “I am Bik!” Then Tam Ting stopped to think for a moment. She said, “I am happy to cuddle with you and keep you warm, but we eat bamboo, and sometime an egg or some pumpkin as a treat. What do you need to eat?” The kitten looked pensive then said, “I am a great hunter. I will keep your home free of mice and vermin, and that shall be my food.” Both seemed happy with the agreement and Bik curled up in Tam Ting’s arms and they drifted off into a comfortable sleep.
The next morning when Tim Tang saw Tam Ting playing with Bik, he came over and asked, “What is this?” Tam Ting said, “This is my new friend Bik. See her beautiful eyes, the color of our native jade.” Tim Tang asked, “Will you be my friend too?” Bik jumped up into his arms and started to purr loudly. The three new friends romped and cuddled and had so much fun.
Later that morning, all the visitors to the zoo crowded around the exhibit excitingly taking photos. When one of the employees saw what was happening, they sent for the zoo’s vet. The vet came immediately with her technician. They cautiously entered the compound and approached the pandas and the kitten. They were concerned that the pandas might harm the kitten, but when they got nearer, they noticed that Tam Ting was lovingly holding the kitten and it was purring. The vet tried to take the kitten, but her technician tapped her on the shoulder, and said, “Look how happy they seem. Tam Ting and the kitten both look as if they are pleading with their eyes, and Tim Tang is standing defensively behind them.” The vet nodded and decided to try talking to the animals. “May I please take the kitten for a little while, to make sure she is healthy?” The pandas did not understand her words, but the vet’s voice sounded kind and her facial expression was loving, so they handed the kitten over to the vet. The Vet said, “Well. I suppose we will need to find a name for you, won’t we? How about Sun Li?” All three animals looked disapprovingly. Then the vet tried several more Chinese names. None of them seemed to make the animals happy. Finally, she exclaimed, “AHA, bright jade eyes, I know, how about Bik?” The kitten smiled and meowed loudly. “So, Bik it is” replied the vet, then she added, “Let’s take you back to the hospital to get you checked on, and up on all your vaccinations. Meanwhile my tech will go out to get you some proper cat food and nice warm cat bed to sleep in.”
Bik was happy and felt right at home with her new family, even though their habits were very different from hers. She loved to snuggle with Tam Ting, and she would race up the trees with Tim Tang chasing after her, all in fun of course. Meanwhile Tim Tang and Tam Ting became more affectionate towards each other, and started to spend an unusual amount of time together. The vet and other panda experts never experienced a male-female relationship such as this before. Usually males will mate, then move on, but this pair seemed to become a true couple. The vet wondered if Bik had something to do with it.
The vet kept a close eye on Tam Ting, and started to notice signs that she was pregnant. The zoo owners and the vet decided to start making a list of possible names for the expected cub. One day the vet came into the compound to check on Tam Ting, and of course Bik was right there by her side, watching everything that was going on. The vet had learned that even though she and the pandas could not speak the same language, they were able to communicate quite adequately by observing each other’s facial expressions and body language. Then of course Bik would always chime in vocally as if she was translating for the pandas. The vet started to read off names for the baby panda. Both Tam Ting and Bik seemed uninterested until she said “Ling-Ling.” Both Tam Ting and Bik sat up erect with their ears perked up. They seemed to smile as they looked at each other and nodded. Yes, the vet was amazed, but they actually nodded at each other. Then they both turned towards her in unison and nodded again. “Well, I guess that is it then. The baby’s name will be Ling-Ling” the vet responded. She walked away wondering if what just happened really did happen.
Five months later a tiny female baby panda was born. Tam Ting was a very proud and devoted mother, and kept Ling-Ling safely hidden from the public at first. The vet and her technician checked in on the family several times each day. When Ling-Ling was ready to come out into the compound, she became the star attraction of the zoo. Hordes of visitors would gather around the panda compound to see little Ling-Ling and her parents. But, the biggest attraction of all was the strange little nanny. Bik was constantly with little Ling-Ling, grooming her and carefully guarding her, like any good nanny would do.