Today, September 7, our giant panda matriarch Bai Yun is 18 years old! It’s hard to believe that in September 1996, this beautiful youngster made her debut in San Diego. Between her and adult male Shi Shi, they literally won the hearts of people all over the world! Born in China in 1991 at the Wolong Giant Panda Center, she was Wolong’s first captive-born panda! Her name in Chinese means “white cloud.”
Bai Yun with her firstborn, Hua Mei.
Over the past 13 years, Bai has contributed greatly to the San Diego Zoo’s giant panda research program. We have learned many aspects of panda husbandry, including how to monitor panda estrus cycles, in-depth looks at the development of a giant panda fetus through ultrasound, and experiencing the birth of her first cub, Hua Mei. Everything we have asked of her she has given us because of the strong trusting bond she has with her keepers. She is truly a remarkable panda!
Bai Yun on her first day in her new exhibit, 1996.
I have watched this girl grow up since 1996, and even now, as she turns 18, she still is beautiful, and there are moments when her “young, prankish” side comes out! I remember in the early days sitting down in the panda yards on my breaks and hanging out with her. Bai was always good for a conversation or two! Then afterward, she would make me laugh with her playful antics, rolling around, doing somersaults, and then looking over at me just to make sure I was paying attention!
So today we celebrate her birthday. We can’t give her an ice birthday cake, as she is busy being Mom to her cub #5. So, happy birthday, Bai Yun! Thank you for all you have given us. You have become a very important ambassador for your species, raising awareness of giant pandas and adding hope for panda conservation in China. We honor you on your special day!
Kathy Hawk is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.