Andrew Santella | May 6, 2016
The undisputed star of the mega-blizzard that belted the East Coast in January was a panda named Tian Tian. A resident of Washington’s National Zoo, Tian Tian was caught on video doing what pandas are wont to do in the middle of a blizzard. There was Tian Tian bodysurfing down an icy slope, there was Tian Tian scooping snow onto his head, there was Tian Tian, it appeared, trying to eat his own snowy feet. You likely have seen the video clip yourself, because the Internet loves sharing videos of animals having fun, and Tian Tian sure seemed to be having a gas.
But was Tian Tian really having fun? A lot of people who study animal behavior would stop short of saying so. The preferred way to explain any animal behavior is to show how it is rational — that is, how it maximizes self-interest in some way, say, finding food or ensuring reproductive prowess. Not much room there for pointless panda fun.