A Panda New Year

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Read what's in store for Yun Zi this year.

Best wishes to all for 2011. It’s a  new year at the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station, and with that comes the promise of many changes for each of our pandas.

Little Yun Zi is now nearly 90 pounds (40 kilograms), by far the largest of the sibling cubs at the age of nearly 17 months. He seems to be growing daily, thanks in no small part to his increasing skill at out-running his mother to get to the veggies and biscuits first. He still prefers the leafy bamboo, so there’s always plenty of that around, since Bai Yun prefers the culm to the leaves on most days, or so it appears.

As Yunnie increases in size and age, it’s becoming more apparent that the time for final weaning and separation is getting closer. (Panda cubs in the wild are weaned by 18 months of age; Yun Zi will be 18 months old on February 5.) We’re seeing more of the rough-and-tumble play and hearing more squeaks and little “barks” as Bai bites harder during these more frequent tussles between mother and cub. And Bai has been observed shoving Yunnie away as he attempts to nurse. This is all a crucial part of the training of a young cub by its mother, a process we’ve witnessed with her four times before. As harsh as it may appear, cubs are not injured and can often outrun Mom, out of reach or up a tree, to take a break. To our great delight, as aggressive as Bai Yun gets, Little Yunnie comes right back at her, time after time.  He’s learning his lessons well.

Yes, the end of this relationship is drawing near. We’re all waiting to see when and how this will unfold. Yunnie’s not the cub his brother was, who was not at all pleased by the separation, or sister Su Lin, who seemed most independent until she and Mom were given access to both sides of the viewing area and she then became a clinging vine, surprising us all. Yun Zi is very much his mother’s son, in size and disposition, mellow and self sufficient. Because of this, we are hoping that the separation process will go smoothly for both mother and cub and make for a truly happy New Year. Keep checking Panda Cam to catch a glimpse of this lively activity.

Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Exhibit Renovation.

For information on how some of our previous cubs handled the weaning process, read about Zhen Zhen’s weaning, starting with Weaning Zhen Zhen: And So It Begins,  from January 26, 2009, and Su Lin’s, starting with Two’s a Crowd from January 28, 2007.