It was a heartfelt farewell for our veterinary team, who have been taking care of giant panda Yun Zi his entire life here at the San Diego Zoo. With the utmost care, they carried out his very last checkup yesterday, making sure he is sent to his homeland in the best of health. The very first time this charming young panda met his veterinarians, he was the size of a stick of butter; his first checkups consisted of weighing, measuring, and making sure he was a healthy little cub. This last checkup, however, was a bit more extensive.
Always the pampered panda, he had every test to ensure he was in perfect travelling health. The veterinarians first made sure he was warm and comfortable by placing a warm blanket on him. He then had a few x-rays taken, got a TB skin test, an echocardiogram of his heart, an ultrasound of his belly, and even a dental exam and teeth cleaning.
While it was hard to take my eyes off one of the cutest patients in the history of hospital care, the legacy of Yun Zi shined through his veterinarians; even while conducting the most challenging of procedures, smiles would creep up on their faces—this panda’s charm was taking hold of the room. Not many can say that their allure endures even while they are sedated!
One of the most incredible moments for me was hearing the rhythm of this guy’s heartbeat; it echoed through the room like the most joyous of tunes.
Now we all know that nothing panda related can escape without an overwhelming amount of cuteness, but a true gush-worthy moment was when a veterinarian went to get a sample from Yun Zi’s ever-fluffy belly. The vet very gently inserted a needle in his tummy and then laughed and let out an inquisitive “hmmm…” Considering the idea that there was just too much fluff and chub to get through, she then went to get a longer needle.
But, of course, Yun Zi is the whole package. While he is a handsome and just plain adorable creature, it is his dashing personality that has won the hearts of his many adoring fans, so the best part was when he woke up after his checkup…or at least tried to. The sleepy guy was back in his crate and, at first, he was reluctant to wake up from his serene nap. As the team brushed him, he seemed to be enjoying it and didn’t feel the need to get up. His little eyes would blink and look around when the staff called out his name, saying, “Wake up, sunshine.” And as though saying, “Okay, okay, I’m up,” he would yawn and lick his teeth while probably thinking, “Hey, my teeth feel cleaner.” He would then lift up his rump, and then his hind paws, then take a pause and just plop right back down. At one point, he just went right back into his napping position wherever he landed, with his nose and right paw sticking out of his crate, but he didn’t care—he was a sleepy panda.
It was a great sign that the hardest part of the checkup was to get the patient to return to his enclosure, and with the incredibly cute checkup complete, Yun Zi is now ready to journey to China. If you see him on Panda Cam, you’ll notice shaved spots on his left rear leg and left arm and two circles, drawn with a felt pen, to indicate where his TB skin test was taken.
When one says farewell to someone they love, it is usually with a heavy heart. But I could tell by looking around the room that his keepers are filled with joy to see him start the next chapter of his life, and nothing gave them more peace than knowing that he would begin his journey as the healthiest panda one could ask for.
Ciela Villasenor is a public relations representative for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Khosi is Queen for the Day.
Note: You may still catch glimpses of Yun Zi on Panda Cam until his departure.