"To have something sharing their space that they can observe and interact with is always going to be beneficial," zoo Director Cindy Kreider said.
Zookeepers started slowly. Panda was moved to an area close to Samantha's night quarters. Then keepers held her up to Samantha for inspection. Panda was let into the exhibit by herself to get the lay of the land. Finally, he was let in while Sam was in there, too -- with an escape hatch for the rabbit, just in case.
"Right off the bat, they hit it off," Kreider said.
Scott Mitchell, the zoo's chief executive, recalled a time shortly after the two were introduced when Panda hopped up to Samantha's beloved Baby, a stuffed toy gorilla. Know this: No one messes with Baby.
Samantha "pushed the baby out of the way so Panda could go by," Mitchell said.
Another time, she scratched underneath Panda's chin. She shares her food. She reaches down to touch Panda, gently.
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(Image credit: Greg Wohlford/Erie Times-News)