We heard that there had been some challenges with finding toys that are durable enough for the two giant pandas at Ähtäri Zoo, Lumi and Pyry – the rubber balls designed as horse toys had not lasted for long in the teeth and claws of these bears.
– Besides eating and sleeping, the pandas also like to play. They get excited over toys that can be carried or rolled around – and even more if there are some treats inside. Especially Lumi, the female panda, is eager to play with balls and lumps of snow, said Anna Palmroth, the carer of the pandas at Ähtäri Zoo.
So we offered to help and make some natural, durable toy balls for the pandas using local pine from Eastern Finland as the material. The balls were handcrafted at our workshop in Kontiolahti and delivered to the pandas on Tuesday, April 17th.
The balls weigh approximately 12 kilos each and they are 40 centimetres in diameter. They consist of sectors that were joined together to circles and glued with non-toxic glue. The circles were then piled to a cylinder and finally hand-turned into the final shape. We attached some rope to the balls for carrying and made a hollow space in the middle for hiding treats inside them.
When we got to Ähtäri Zoo and handed over our gift, they were put to the panda enclosure with some treats to help the animals to familiarise themselves with their new toys. Their carer Jenna put carrots in the drilled holes on the sides of the balls and some “panda cake” on top. The specialty cake consists of rice flour, corn flour, soy flour, oil, eggs, some salt and sugar and a little bit of calcium – what a treat 🙂 The food was the priority for the pandas, of course, and after that Pyry, the male panda decided it was time for some more bamboo.
But Lumi, the female panda, who is the more playful spirit of the two, immediately got excited about the new, durable toy and started rolling it on the floor with her paws. The pandas can move freely from inside to the outside enclosure, so she took the ball with her to play outside in the snow. As her name Lumi (Finnish word for ‘snow’) suggests, this panda really loves snow – and apparently her new toy as well. It was the cutest thing ever to watch her laying on her back and juggling with the ball in her paws, doing somersaults and clearly enjoying playing with a little bulkier ball than usual 🙂
– It went almost exactly we guessed – as Lumi is more playful, we were confident that it will try out the ball immediately. Pyry is getting to puberty and he does not bother to play too much. He is more reserved right now and food is number one, said the carer Jenna from Ähtäri.
Jenna thanked us on behalf of the pandas and she was sure the balls will end up in heavy use.
– I think they won’t break them very easily, at least until they get the first part off. Then they might be gone as they really like to chew their toys! We’ll most likely put them in the outer enclosure every now and then for the pandas to play with freely.
Pyry might get interested in the toys after they have been used by Lumi, but so far the two have only made contact through the fence before its time to reproduce.
We were truly happy to see that our gift ended up in use straight away and we succeeded in making a design that endured at least this first test! Of course we designed the structure as durable as possible and tested it in the pre-assembly stage by hitting them with hammers (and they didn’t suffer any damage). But even though we have designed and manufactured many challenging projects, it was our first custom project for panda bears so everything could not be tested beforehand 🙂
There is also an interesting story behind the wood material we used. The balls were made from timber that was left over from the building works of our workshop expansion as we are currently tripling our workshop space. Originally these gigantic pine trunks would have been burnt to energy, since they were discarded as too big at a local sawmill before we adopted them into use. So the balls are quite ecological and natural toys, as no material went to waste, and being environmentally-friendly goes well with the spirit of Ähtäri Zoo.
This was an extremely fun and interesting project, getting to work for such prestigious customers as Lumi and Pyry. Yet it was challenging enough – we didn’t really count hours when making them 🙂 Our goal is to push the limits of woodworking so we hope we will be challenged in the future as well!