Fond Panda Memories

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Remember when Yun Zi was this small?

As we find the winter holidays behind us, things are a little quieter in most of our homes; however, this is not true for the pandas! Hundreds to thousands of people come to the San Diego Zoo each day to visit our famous black-and-white bears, and some of those visitors can’t help but fall in love with them. The longer I work as a panda narrator, the longer I realize how many people come on a weekly basis for their regular visits to our pandas, and I know that many more of you who can’t physically come to our Zoo each week still visit by tuning into our Panda Cam.

From the guests who have been coming to our Zoo for decades and make the pandas a part of their morning walk to our panda hobby photographers to our generous donors and members to those who are viewing a live panda for the first time, everyone seems to have their own unique experiences. Some people have even cried tears of joy when they see our panda cub playing with his mom. One of the things that makes the pandas stand out stars at the Zoo—their silly antics! I asked some of the regular visitors to the Giant Panda Research Station what their fondest memories of the pandas were over the years, and here are a few:

One regular says that one of her favorite moments was during the separation process with Zhen Zhen. She said that the keepers opened the gate for Mom and her cub to have access to one another in the morning, and our mother bear, Bai Yun was still sleeping on her back. The cub sneaked over to Mom and touched her toe. Bai Yun, startled, jumped up to see what was at her feet; once she realized it was her cub, she relaxed and pulled the young panda close. I love that story because it is a great reminder of what an awesome mother Bai Yun has been to her cubs.

Another guest says he remembers Zhen Zhen as a cub playing with her red ball. He said he would have watched her for hours if he could. Anyone who remembers Zhen Zhen, now three years old and living in a panda sanctuary in China, remembers her silly antics. She rivaled any circus clown with her acrobatics. I have fond memories of her sideways somersaults—she would roll from the back of the exhibit near the tree to the front of the exhibit near the moat to the delight of all. One day she even hung upside down on a branch to get a better look at me. Oh, that Zhen Zhen!

Yun Zi, our current cub, was so tiny at first but bold. I remember watching him trying to climb the walls of his enclosure from the Panda Cam television screen between the two main exhibits and quietly cheering him on with the rest of the guests, knowing that he was always getting closer to passing his climbing test in the back and would soon be coming out on exhibit to meet the world face to face.

One guest came all the way from Washington this winter to visit our pandas. She told me our father bear, Gao Gao, was so special to her, and she felt that Gao had such a gentle, calm nature about him. She was definitely in love!

We hope to see you regulars and new guests soon, and if you stop by for a visit to the Giant Panda Research Station, please say hi and share your memories with us. I hope you all will have an opportunity to witness the pandas doing something that will inspire even more fond memories of our beloved bamboo bears.

Michelle Penick is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.