Here’s a question: what was the first panda cam?

This phenomenon has become a remarkably popular, must-have feature of zoos with pandas. It is, after all, a negligible expense compared with the amount that Western zoos are prepared to pay for the privilege of showing off this striking creature not to mention all that bamboo.

I’m thinking about this because Pan Wenshi and colleagues working in the Qinling Mountains in 1994 rigged up an infra-red Minitron MTV-1881 video camera in the den of their “star female” Jiao Jiao and recorded the life of her third cub – a male called Sun – over the course of more than six months. If you want to read their detailed paper on what they found, you’ll find it here on the San Diego Zoo’s website.

When I did my PhD in the late 1990s, it was still relatively rare for behavioural ecologists to incorporate such gadgetry into their work. I’m wondering if this use of cameras in Qinling was ahead of its time and also whether it stimulated the use of cameras at the centres for captive pandas in China and beyond.

I’d welcome hearing of early instances of panda or other zoo cams.

The first panda cam