Panda News: The Good and the Bittersweet

Yun Zi is a confident subadult panda.

Yun Zi is a confident subadult panda.

The Panda Team is thrilled to share the news that we have extended our loan agreement with China for another five years! This is great news for all of us, and we are excited to see what the next five years brings for our pandas, Bai Yun and Gao Gao, here at the San Diego Zoo and for panda conservation efforts.

We also wanted to let everyone know that Yun Zi, now 4½ years old, will be heading to China to join the breeding program in January 2014. This is an important, yet bittersweet, milestone for all of us because, simply put, we will miss Yun Zi! While all of the pandas born here are special, Yun Zi’s playful antics have brought tremendous joy to all who have watched him grow up. From the first croaks and squawks we heard from him back in the summer of 2009, to his first steps and his growing confidence, strength, and adventurousness, watching him grow into a strong and active young male has been a true pleasure.

Our sadness at seeing him go is brightened, of course, by the fact that he will go to China to become an important part of the breeding program there. As an offspring of Gao Gao, his genes are an important contribution to panda conservation efforts, and we look forward to hearing news of his transition into adulthood.

Getting ready for a trip to China is no small undertaking, and so keepers will be working with Yun Zi over the next month or so to make sure he is ready for the long journey.  It is so important that he becomes comfortable in his traveling crate, and we want to give him as much time as we can to acclimate to it. This means that Yun Zi will  be consistently available for public viewing only until Tuesday, December 10, 2013, before his travel training begins. You may catch a glimpse of him on Panda Cam now and then when he is in the north exhibit. Now over 4 years old and weighing more than his father, Gao Gao, does, we know he will handle this move just fine.

We hope that everyone has a chance to say their goodbyes to the this very special bear. And please feel free to use this comment section to send your best wishes to Yun Zi and his keepers.

Megan Owen is an associate director with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Pandas: How Far We’ve Come.

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