When Will That Cub Debut?

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Many of you have been asking about, and discussing, the public debut of Yun Zi. Yes, it is beyond the time that Bai Yun’s other cubs have been available for public viewing, and some of you are wondering why our little boy is not outside yet. Many have asked where he will be on exhibit. I know there is a lot of interest in seeing this cub, and I hope this update will answer your questions.

Until recently, Yun Zi has been a bit behind his siblings with respect to spending time out of the den. As I mentioned in my last post (Yun Zi Takes on the World?), Zhen Zhen was following her mother out on exhibit before Christmastime. We don’t know why Zi has been slower: because he’s a boy? Because his body size is so large compared to some sibs, making it a little tougher for him to move his mass around? Personality? This is where that individual variation I mentioned before has come into play.

About 10 days ago, Yunior started picking up speed in the behavioral milestone department. We have been pleased to see him out rolling around with his mother in the bedrooms and tunnels. We have watched him head out to the classroom area, which Bai Yun has access to during the daytime, and work on his climbing skills. His social play has picked up. He seems very ready to meet the challenges of being on exhibit.

But we can’t simply open the door and put him on exhibit for the public yet. Why? As many of our astute nighttime Panda Cam viewers have noted: Zi has a bit of a scheduling problem. He is up and at ‘em in the wee hours of the morning. Keepers have noted that when they come in at 6 a.m., he is often busily tumbling around. Unfortunately, the San Diego Zoo doesn’t open at 6 a.m. In fact, by the time grounds open, it has been our boy’s habit to be sound asleep in the den.

So the keepers have been working with Yunior to modify his schedule.They are training him to be up and ready to go at 9 a.m., when the Zoo opens. If he is awake when they offer Bai Yun access to the classroom, Zi will follow his mother to the exhibit. This is the goal. The Panda Team made the decision some weeks ago that we will not pick him up and place him on exhibit each day. We want him to get there under his own power so the experience is as pleasant and rewarding for him as possible.

Why not simply open the classroom now and cross our fingers that he’ll be out each day? I am sure all of you are aware how intense the public interest in this cub has been. What would we say to the guest who hopped a plane to come see Zi, only to be told, “sorry, he didn’t feel like coming out today?” No, we prefer getting him into a groove so that we can guarantee he will be available for viewing, so no one is disappointed.

I know it is frustrating to be this close to a debut for Yunior without actually seeing him in person. I know it may be confusing to see him out in the classroom on the Panda Cam and wonder how that meshes with our explanations of the past telling you he isn’t ready. Truthfully, he wasn’t ready. But now he is. We just need to get him on schedule. You have heard us say time and again that everything is “up to Bai Yun”…but in this case we deviate from that formula a bit because we know she will not have much concern with the idea of being in front of the public. In fact, her presence will go a long way toward comforting and relaxing Yunior when he first meets you. Our biggest concern is Yunior, because Bai Yun is already a pro at being viewed by her adoring fans.

And so it is that Yunior is now shifting his activity pattern to match our intended on-exhibit schedule for him. We are beginning to acclimate him to people by allowing employees access to the viewing area when Zi is out. In about two weeks (or so), he will be on exhibit in the classroom during morning hours only. Luckily, since he is debuting in the classroom, that means there will be three panda exhibits open in the morning, and nearly every one of our bears will be available for viewing!

In the meantime, I ask for your patience. It will be rewarded soon enough!

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician with the San Diego Zoos Institute for Conservation Research.