About Author: Cielo Villasenor

Posts by Cielo Villasenor


Preparing for a Proper Farewell

Yun Zi is in perfect health!

Yun Zi is in perfect health!

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.


Khosi is Queen for the Day

We celebrate Khosi's 7th birthday!

We celebrate Khosi’s 7th birthday!

Khosi the elephant’s name is short for “heart of a queen,” and yesterday, September 11, 2013, her keepers put together a celebration truly fit for royalty. In honor of Khosi’s seventh birthday, the daily Elephant Keeper Talk at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was dedicated to celebrating this special gal, and she had quite the setup waiting for her as she entered Tembo Stadium. Silk floss flowers lined the path to Khosi’s cake, which was made from her favorite treats: frozen bran, beet pulp, hay pellets, and mango juice Popsicles.


Khosi didn’t have to share her treats on this day.

Khosi’s relaxed personality certainly shone through the day. She first went for the greenery the keepers had put around the stage area and then made her way to the cake, gripping her mango Popsicles with her incredibly cute little trunk. She then stomped the frozen bran to make it into more manageable pieces and lastly went after the pellets, which are like M&M’s for elephants and tend to be Khosi’s favorite treat.

Khosi sure deserved a nice day to herself; after all, she is incredibly nurturing and often takes on the role of babysitting her younger siblings, but this day she got the day off and had the spotlight all to herself. After watching Khosi’s celebration, one this is sure: the birthday girl wore her crown with true grace.

Cielo Villaseñor is a public relations representative for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Birthday Bonanza for Bai Yun.


Birthday Bonanza for Bai Yun

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.


Poised Panda Gets a Party

Yun Zi's birthday cake didn't stay this way for long!

Yun Zi’s birthday cake didn’t stay this way for long!

The ever-popular Yun Zi made his fourth birthday wish this morning after knocking down the number atop his birthday cake, which is this panda’s annual ritual in lieu of blowing out candles. While the partygoers waited anxiously to welcome him, little did the birthday boy know that upon entering his exhibit he would be greeted with a panda party. His enclosure was decorated with gift boxes full of Bermuda grass and biscuits, a cardboard panda and turtle, a 150-pound cake, and, of course, his attentive fan club, decked out in panda hats and Yun Zi T-shirts.

After getting a little taste of his cake, he made sure to have his bamboo breakfast first and then a bit more of the treat for dessert. Yun Zi’s cake was a four-tiered work of art made of ice, filled with apples and carrots, drizzled with honey, and decorated with yam frosting and bamboo.

But while he was a good boy and had his breakfast before fully indulging in dessert, he sure lived up to his reputation as a busy boy and destructive re-decorator, knocking over his cake and ripping open his gifts like a toddler on Christmas morning.

Unlike his baby brother, who celebrated his first birthday last week, it seemed that climbing the cake was beneath this poised panda, as he placed one paw on the cake for posterity while leaning it closer to his snout so he could get a better angle on the treat, eventually toppling the whole thing over. Yun Zi was also very particular about the parts of the cake he wanted to enjoy first; he went for the red apple-flavored pieces first, as this is his favorite fruit.

Always a performer, the 4-year-old panda got the most laughs from the crowd when he climbed, head first, inside his cardboard panda gift box and then ripped it open, as if revealing himself to his adoring fans. That, however, was not the only laugh he got out of his fan club, which included a young boy who had been studying Mandarin Chinese and was so proud to be able to say “hello” to the cub in his native language; “Ni hao, Yun Zi” said the little guy, barely able to pronounce the “o” in “hao” because of the huge smile on his face.

Yun Zi over the years

Yun Zi over the years

While the smiles, laughs and “ooh” and “aahs” made the joy of this celebration palpable, I think all of the panda fans’ thoughts and feelings can best be expressed by the words of a gentleman I overhead while watching Yun Zi this morning: he walked over to the glass, took one look at the birthday boy, and simply said “What a guy.”

Cielo Villasenor is a public relations representative for San Diego Zoo Global.