Birthday Bonanza for Bai Yun

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Champagne "glasses" filled with honey water were part of the treats awaiting Bai Yun on her 22nd birthday.

Champagne “glasses” filled with honey water were part of the treats awaiting Bai Yun on her 22nd birthday.

The San Diego Zoo’s forage team was so excited about giant panda Bai Yun’s 22nd birthday on September 7, 2013, that they offered the pandas the first round of champagne to celebrate…the panda version of champagne, that is. The forage team, in charge of preparing the yummy and nutritious food for residents of the Zoo, worked on Bai’s birthday cake for a whole month. The ice cake stood five feet tall, weighed 215 pounds, was adorned with ice confetti and star-shaped fruit, and was topped with two champagne flutes made from ice and bamboo. The den was adorned with gift boxes filled with cinnamon biscuits (Bai’s favorite) and piñatas in the shape of a shark and a turtle.

One thing is clear after the day’s activities: Bai Yun is a gal who knows what she wants and knows how to get it—the birthday bear went straight for the fresh yams and apples first, meticulously shifting around the ice confetti in search of the hidden little treasures. She then went for the bamboo, grabbing the stalks and taking them right out of the cake for better, more efficient handling.

Like mother, like son!

The names of Bai Yun’s six cubs decorate this ice plaque.

As Bai sat down to enjoy her cake, her cub Xiao Liwu came out to share in the celebration. First he investigated the plaque with the names and birth years of Bai’s six cubs, looked up as if to say “Hey, that’s me,” and then moved right along to plunder the cake with mamma panda. While Mr. Wu was getting a taste of the honey drizzled on the ice, mamma bear went for the honey water in her champagne flutes. The easiest way to do that? Topple the cake over. A horizontal cake meant better accessibility for Mr. Wu, so he climbed atop and enjoyed his mother’s birthday treat from there, as if making it his edible throne of delicious panda snackage.

As heart-meltingly adorable as the pandas are, one of the greatest aspects of these events is the joy it brings the panda fans who come out to wish the bears a happy birthday. I always take a moment to look around at everyone’s face as it lights up when the bears come out; the combination of Bai Yun and Mr. Wu with a huge cake made for a lot of oohs and ahhs. Usually the fan reactions are my absolute favorite moments of the entire day, but this time it was a tie between a human and a bear.

Like mother, like son!

Like mother, like son!

First, the human: Per usual, everyone is clicking away trying to get the cutest shots of the bears frolicking. Let’s face it: it is adorability you just want to share with the world! At one point, the panda duo got together behind the cake, and you could see both of their gorgeous faces through the tiers of the cake, making for one of the best shots imaginable. It was then that the woman next to me, who had a pretty impressive camera and had been shooting away all morning, gently brought the camera down from her face, intently gazed at the bears, and let out a huge sigh. It was as though she was just moved by the sheer majesty of the moment and wanted to completely soak it in, she then brought the camera back up to her face and continued shooting, keeping that special moment between the pandas as a little memento for herself.

Now the bear: Not only did Mr. Wu look adorable while investigating the plaque with the cub names on it, but it also served as a moment of realization. As I stood there and watched him scan the plaque, I thought of the significance of those names, which displayed the incredible impact that his mother has had in her 22 years of life, giving birth to and raising six fine offspring over the years. It was an incredibly special experience to share in the celebration of Bai’s birthday with her legacy displayed on that plaque and part of that legacy bouncing around, enjoying the treat by her side.

Today was a very memorable day for Bai Yun and her cub, who have enjoyed two ice cakes in the past few weeks, the San Diego Zoo keepers who love and care for these animals, the forage team who put together a phenomenal cake, and, of course, the adoring panda fans who shared in the celebration with our wonderful world-famous friends.

Cielo Villaseñor is a public relations representative for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Poised Panda Gets a Party.

Note: Video will be posted when available.