About Author: Christina Simmons

Posts by Christina Simmons


Celebrating 40 Years of Leadership


We’re celebrating our success using science to help save species. (Pictured: Bai Yun with Su Lin,  her third cub.)

It was overwhelming, inspiring, and at times emotional. A group of conservationists gathered at the Beckman Center Thursday, September 10 and heard from leaders in wildlife conservation, who took the podium and described their life’s work to the crowd. The theme of every talk was doing the “new,” the perceived “impossible,” to save species.

It has been 40 years since Kurt Benirschke, M.D. began the conservation science department of San Diego Zoo Global, which developed into today’s San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Today, conservation researchers met to celebrate this milestone by sharing their work and their plans for the future.

Each speaker had a story to tell of challenges, tears, and success. Mike Wallace spoke about condors, about protesters demanding that we let them “die with dignity,” about administrators fighting for the right to save this iconic bird species, and then about finally seeing condors flying free again in the wild—a recovered species that still needs human management and protection. Don Lindburg, Ph.D. spoke about the challenge of getting pandas, the skepticism of those who did not believe we could work successfully with pandas, and the joy of the first baby panda birth. And, of course, Barbara Durrant, Ph.D. and Oliver Ryder, Ph.D. reviewed the work they have done with assisted reproduction, with the Frozen Zoo®, building hope for the future without knowing for sure what we would need—and now that work is needed so much to save a species on the brink: the northern white rhino.

It was a celebration of 40 years of history, of leadership, of going down the road less traveled (and, really, a road that everyone said couldn’t be traveled) to make a difference for the future. And it was such an honor to be here.

Christina Simmons is the public relations manager for San Diego Zoo Global.


Surgery for Gao Gao

Get well soon, Gao Gao! Your bamboo awaits.

Get well soon, Gao Gao! Your bamboo awaits.

This morning, May 6, 2014, giant panda Gao Gao underwent surgery to remove his right testicle, due to the presence of a tumor. The surgery, which took about an hour, went well, and the San Diego Zoo’s veterinarians are hopeful that Gao Gao will make a full recovery. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the surgery, we do not know if Gao Gao will continue to be part of the panda breeding population. In addition to the surgery, veterinarians took the opportunity to do an ultrasound to follow up on his previously diagnosed heart condition. We are awaiting a review by experts for results of the ultrasound.

The San Diego Zoo’ Panda Team had been observing Gao Gao and Bai Yun for signs of breeding behavior over the last month.  No changes in Bai Yun’s estrous behavior were noted, and in the best interest of Gao Gao’s health, the decision to perform the surgery was made. Bai Yun has reached an age where it is likely she will no longer go through a breeding cycle, and the observations seen this spring are consistent with signs seen in other aging pandas.

The Ministry of Forestry for the People’s Republic of China has been fully informed regarding the status of Gao Gao’s health and gave approval for the surgery. Officials from San Diego Zoo Global and China are expected to discuss the future of the giant panda program in San Diego before the end of 2014. No changes in the panda population at the Zoo are currently expected.

Christina Simmons is public relations manager for San Diego Zoo Global.

Update May 7, 2014: Gao Gao is recovering from his surgery in his own private quarters at the Giant Panda Research Station. Keepers report he is starting to show an interest in solid food.

Update May 8: Keepers report that Gao Gao is resting comfortably in his familiar bedroom area and showing marked improvement. He is eating bamboo and taking his medicine, hidden in apple slices, without a fuss.

Update May 9: Gao Gao now has access to the north yard, an off-exhibit area, if he’d like to get some fresh air.


Elephants Mabu, Lungile in Arizona

Mabu and Lugile explore their new home.

It’s a cool and windy day here in Tucson, Arizona, and I am sitting under a tree watching our two African elephants, Mabu and Lungile, as they explore part of their new habitat. The pair arrived here from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on February 24. They seem to be enjoying the lush grass, the space, the desert smells on the wind, and all of the brand new nooks and crannies to explore.

The Reid Park Zoo's new elephant habitat

The facilities here at the Reid Park Zoo are beautiful, with a couple of acres of outside space, air-conditioned shelters and barns, and a huge pool for elephant play. Everyone here in Tucson seems really excited to be welcoming our elephants to the exhibit they have worked on building for the last couple of years. I have no doubt that Mabu and Lungile will be stars here in Arizona just as they were in California!

Christina Simmons is the public relations manager for San Diego Zoo Global.


Gao Gao Surgery: Get-Well Wishes

Photo by JR Milne

This morning, Thursday October 6, a team of veterinarians and animal care staff performed an exploratory exam on giant panda Gao Gao. The male panda has been experiencing some abdominal discomfort from an unknown source. Today’s exam served as an early detection mechanism allowing the medical team at the San Diego Zoo to rule out some health concerns.

Veterinarians will continue to observe Gao Gao.  He will have a shaved patch on his abdomen that may be visible until the hair grows back. We appreciate your concern, and welcome you to post your get well wishes in the comments and on our facebook page.

Christina Simmons is the PR Manager for San Diego Zoo Global


New Elephants: Jewel and Tina

Jewel and Tina in their new home at the San Diego Zoo.

Tina puts a trunk up to check in with travel partner Jewel in their new home at the San Diego Zoo.

About 6 a.m. on Saturday, August 22, a large air-conditioned truck arrived at the back gate of the San Diego Zoo. Inside the truck were two Asian elephants, just arrived from a long journey from Texas. The two elephants, named Jewel and Tina, were removed from the care of a private owner by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on August 20.

APHIS, the agency that enforces the federal Animal Welfare Act, chose the San Diego Zoo as the receiving facility for these elephants because the Zoo can provide the elephants with the care that best matches their particular needs. The newly created Prebys Elephant Care Center is a state-of-the-art facility designed with the care of older pachyderms in mind. The elephant move occurred under the auspices of APHIS and was observed by San Diego Humane Society officials.

Once the truck arrived at the Zoo, it was opened, and the elephants were invited by animal care staff to come into their new home. It took a couple of hours for them to decide to take advantage of the offer, but finally both girls were in the Elephant Care Center together, munching on bananas, chirping, and checking each other with their trunks.

Jewel and Tina are not expected to be available for public viewing for the next few weeks as they acclimate and receive thorough health examinations. Zoo officials hope that the two will integrate well into the existing herd of seven elephants current housed in the new exhibit.

Christina Simmons is the public relations manager for the San Diego Zoo.

Note: We hope to have more information on Tina and Jewel by the end of this week. We now have video of their first veterinary exam at the Zoo.