When I returned to China for the 2009 breeding season, I was overcome with joy as I saw my Chinese friends in person. After the earthquake on May 12, 2008, I found some way to communicate with all of them, but there is nothing like being face to face. Forgetting that I was in China, I went up to each of them and gave them a huge hug. The looks on their faces were priceless! They don’t traditionally hug as a greeting, so to have a tall blonde woman hug you in public was shocking to most of them. Afterward they all just chuckled a little bit and changed the subject.
Life in Bi Feng Xia was business as usual. Female giant pandas were going into estrus everywhere you looked. It was as if the breeding center had broken out into song. After Hua Mei mated there was a huge dinner celebration because she had the first natural breeding session of the year!
New exhibits were opening almost every day as the Wolong relocated giant pandas returned home. I had drawn a map of the facility on my first day and by the time I left it was barely readable due to all the additions. The panda kindergarten was full of last year’s cubs, and they were constantly having a blast in their outdoor jungle gym enclosure.
The Panda Club has put up plaques throughout the panda base thanking everyone for their support. It is very clear that the world reached out to them in their time of need and we have made a difference in their ability to recover from the earthquake.
Jennifer Keating is a research scientist for the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Mei Sheng’s New Exhibit.