About Author: Ellie Rosenbaum

Posts by Ellie Rosenbaum


Time to (Panda) Trek!

Red panda Lily explores her new home in Panda Trek.

Phase I of the Panda Trek at the San Diego Zoo has finally opened, and critters and visitors alike are delighted! (See video of Panda Trek). Lily, the one-year-old red panda, is busily exploring every inch of her beautiful new habitat (when not curled up in one of the elm trees). The field station is open for a peek at how scientists live in the wilds of China, and the takins are settling into their new, multilevel enclosure. A ramp leads up and around the corner to the giant panda research station (quiet voices, please!) where Gao Gao and Yun Zi are available for viewing most of the day. We’re awaiting the arrival of the Mang Mountain vipers; they’ll be moved down in the next few weeks and can be seen for now at the Zoo’s Reptile House.

It’s been an exciting transition for all. For many people, the best part was moving day, when the takins were allowed to leave their previous enclosure near the Elephant Odyssey Fossil Portal and walk down to their new home at the Trek—at least that was the idea. Once on the forested hillside, the takins had other plans. Instead of wandering down in an orderly fashion, they reached the hillside and decided to explore – and play – and explore – and backtrack – and play – and chase – and approach the gate to their new area – and retreat. It was delightful to watch these majestic animals in an approximation of their wooded mountain habitat (no native eucalyptus in their wild home, after all), romping youngsters and stately adults both, and we made sure that visitors were aware of just how special this sight was.

We've created a new home for our takins, too!

Keepers, meanwhile, exhibited extraordinary patience as they coaxed, called, cajoled, and tried everything they could to entice the takins to leave the hillside and enter their new area. No amount of treat-bucket shaking was enough to lure more than one of the takins in at a time, and then that animal would leave to rejoin the rest of the group on the hillside. Eventually, food, as always, won out, and the takin herd moved into its new home to dine, and there they remain for all to see.

It’s been interesting to watch the panda guys adjust to their new neighbors. They could catch a glimpse of the takins on moving day, but not as much now. The sounds and smells, however, are another matter. Gao Gao especially is intrigued by the smell, stopping in mid-activity as the breeze shifts to lift his head and sniff. Yun Zi seemed alert to the recently added residents in the early days, but after two weeks he seems to be less interested.

And Bai Yun? She remains off exhibit and is being monitored for any signs of pregnancy. There is still nothing definitive, one way or the other. We’ve still much to learn about the process of delayed implantation and pregnancy in older females, but continuing research is yielding exciting new developments every day.

Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator and educator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Pandas: The Big Questions.


Pandas: The Big Questions

Well, Bai Yun?

Down in Asian Passage at the San Diego Zoo, we seem to have more questions than answers these days, but the anticipation is growing day by day:

“When will our new Panda Trek be opened?”
“When will the new “tenants” be moving in?”
“Is Bai Yun pregnant?”

In short—we don’t know.

Now I know that this is not a very satisfying answer; believe me, we’re as anxious as you for information! But these things appear to be unfolding at their own tantalizing pace.

The number of work crews diminishes almost daily as project after project is completed. Major landscaping, in these last few weeks, has been supplemented with additional plants, and Panda Trek looks not only “finished” but more established each day; kudos to the landscape contractors but especially to our horticulture team. They have this amazing ability to make bare look lush in a matter of days! There appears to be some fine-tuning to the bedroom and kitchen areas (behind closed doors). My favorite sight so far are panels painted on the entry portal gate, so reminiscent of signage in rural Sichuan Provence, to mark Panda Trek’s entrance.

The takin area has been layered with hoofed animal bedding, the viper enclosure is being completed, and things are moving forward. As always, however, it is the well-being of the animals that comes first, and no critter will be moved until everyone from architects to keepers is certain that the enclosures are complete, safe, and totally ready.

The Bai Yun question remains a question; there’s no definitive information one way or the other, so we just keep watching and waiting. While she’s still in the back, it’s fun to have Gao and Yunnie in the main viewing area, enjoying the quiet now that most of the heavy work is done. And can you believe that Yunnie is going to be two? They grow so fast!

And…a happy sixth birthday to Su Lin today and a happy fourth birthday to Zhen Zhen tomorrow. It’s truly a week for celebrations!

Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator and educator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Pandas: Waiting.


Pandas: Waiting….

Yun Zi takes a trek of his own!

While we’re all anxious and excited for Panda Trek to be completed here at the San Diego Zoo, it’s waiting time here at the Giant Panda Research Station. The weather’s been unseasonably warm and humid for San Diego, and the construction continues.

Panda Trek is taking shape. Day by day, week by week, the structures and enclosures are taking form. It’s going to be exciting to see it and the resident creatures all come together. In the meantime, the takins, a red panda, and the vipers can still be seen in their current enclosures around the Zoo. When the time comes, they can easily be moved into their new homes, since these will be pristine exhibits previously unoccupied by any other animals. This will eliminate the need for any quarantine time; remember when Bai Yun and Shi Shi moved into their new homes nearly 15 years ago? The areas will sit ready and waiting for their new “homeowners.”

The weather has been warm, but each bear has the option of retreating in an air-conditioned bedroom, resting under misters, or enjoying a dip in the pool or a pile of ice, and our animal care staff and panda narrators monitor the pandas’ behavior at all times. Gao Gao stayed in his indoor/outdoor bedroom suite within the research station for several days, keeping cool and comfortable.

Giving Yun Zi access to both sides of the main viewing area has given him an enriching experience; all those interesting “Gao” smells to check out and a space to revisit and expand his horizons. And Bai Yun, with her shortened hours in the North Exhibit, has access to both the outdoor space and her suite. She tends to eat outdoors, then retreats to the AC to nap, so visitors may or may not see her outdoors, depending on HER personal schedule. As of July 5, there are no indications of a pregnancy, although based on the calendar, and nothing else, she’s being “ultrasounded” twice a week now. Again, it’s about the time of year and her past history of birth times, no other reason. Yet we’re also waiting for any signs of a possible pregnancy, should they appear. As always, the Queen is in charge!

This week’s earlier events have proven no challenge to our pandas (see post Our Pandas are Fine). Today, the debris has been cleared, the area cleaned, and the pandas were napping peacefully through the morning. We’re still playing “musical bears,” moving them among exhibits as construction demands, but they are shifting with ease. The bears are alright!

Dragons and acrobats abound during Nightime Zoo: China Celebration in anticipation of our expanded Trek. We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding; good things are worth waiting for. And hooray! Su Lin has given birth! We’re all “grandpandas” again, and Gao Gao’s important genetics have been passed to a new generation of giant pandas!

Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator and educator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Yun Zi Rolls On.


Yun Zi Rolls On

Yun Zi takes time to eat between bouts of redecorating.

Observant visitors to the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station, either actual or virtual, may have noticed the lack o’ tree in Yun Zi’s area. Yes, after another round of fun and frolic, the battered elm tree is now a well-shielded trunk. Yunnie managed, about a week ago, to clamber up high enough to cause concern—concern that he could uproot the tree, bend the top to the breaking point, or possibly lean close enough to the wall for a great “out of the exhibit” adventure. (This is not desirable with regard to a 113-pound bear.)

To eliminate any of these possibilities, it was decided to remove the top of the tree, leaving the trunk and the tree guard. Now, you might think that that would be the end of that, but oh no. Yun Zi is carrying on yet another family tradition, this time channeling his older brother, Mei Sheng. It was this first cub of Bai Yun and Gao Gao who shredded all the shrubbery in the left-hand enclosure, pulling off branches just for the fun of it.

Well, Yunnie has turned his attention, too, to the shrubbery in his enclosure, but rather than tearing the bushes apart (so far), his technique has been to roll over them, flattening this lovely, lush growth, to the delight of Zoo guests. He’s still young enough (21 months) to enjoy a good play bout and small enough to give off a cub-like vibe, even though he’s continuing to grow; he’ll reach his full size by about 4 years old.

The cost to the plants notwithstanding, each cub has provided us with his or her own take on “growing up panda.” While there’s still no word about Bai Yun’s condition (it’s probably too soon, and she may not have implanted yet), we’re all keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll have yet one more opportunity to share the joy that is a panda cub.

Ellie Rosenbaum is an educator and panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Like Sister, Like Brother.


Like Sister, Like Brother

Yun Zi in exploration mode.

It seemed as if there were Su Lin vibes in the air several months ago when panda youngster Yun Zi, upon being introduced to the right-hand viewing area, began to tear limbs off the freshly planted elm tree.  Well, now that Yun Zi is back in that area, the similarity continues.  Not only has he been at the little tree again (there are few branches left that he can reach, so perhaps that game is over for now), but now he has found and adopted sister Su Lin’s favorite spring and summer napping spot.  Drat!

Yes, our lively little guy has discovered the quiet and shade of the front right corner, up near the wall, nearly invisible to visitors, there to sleep for hours and hours. This can be very frustrating for everyone (except Yunnie), and it’s going to require a lot of patience on all of our parts to wait and revisit when he decides to awaken and move back up into the center of the exhibit. Having been “trained” by his older sister to watch and wait over many summers, we are prepared. It’s pretty funny, though, that brother and sister show these behavioral similarities. As with many families, they can’t deny their relationship. And on a side note, we’re estimating Yun’s weight at around 120 pounds (54 kilograms).

Bai Yun remains in the North Exhibit following mating season and can be visited by San Diego Zoo guests most days between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. It can be many weeks or months before a panda female begins her actual pregnancy following the actual breeding, so we’re watching and waiting in this area as well. Our animal care team knows Bai well, having seen her through both real and pseudopregnancies in years past, and will monitor her with care.

The construction continues on the new Panda Trek habitat, and we’re preparing new and exciting interpretive materials for the many animals that will be joining our black-and-white bears later this spring. We will keep you updated on the progress and eventual opening.

Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, A Piece of Quiet.


A Piece of Quiet

Yun Zi

After a week and some of noise and demolition here in Panda Canyon, all became quiet and has remained so, as permits were sought for the next phase of the construction in Panda Canyon. This provides all—pandas and humans alike—with a much-appreciated respite just in the nick of time! Last Monday brought us the first wave of Spring Break visitors, from places cold and damp—Chicago, South Dakota, North Carolina, Kansas, Toronto—all enjoying a quiet time with the pandas and the lovely San Diego sunshine.

It’ll be busy for the next few weeks, as various school districts take their spring breaks. This generally marks the beginning of our busy season, building, of course, to summer and our Nighttime Zoo extended hours. It also means that Panda-Vaganza is drawing near, when panda fans from all over will come together in San Diego to celebrate their favorite animals. We meet many of them over the years, and they are a diverse and interesting group of people. It’s always a joy to see them again.

Bai Yun is still being watched and checked for signs of an impending estrus. There is still nothing, so not to worry: two years ago it progressed very rapidly once it began, culminating in successful mating and the birth of Yun Zi. Speaking of the little guy, he’s begun climbing up the poplar trees in earnest and, while not available for viewing, can be glimpsed more often approaching the tree guards.

Gao Gao continues to eat reliably and sleep, frustratingly, behind his climbing structure. We’re grateful that his appetite is as huge as it is, so his naps are rarely very long. Even Charlotte, our resident nesting hummingbird, seems more settled in her tiny nest. If you do happen to visit, ask the panda narrator to point her out; she’s easily visible. And don’t let a line at the entrance to the panda exhibit deter you; it simply means that there are lots of other people like you anxious to visit our long-term, black-and-white guests from China.

Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Canyon Changes.


Panda Canyon Changes

Like father, like son?

It’s two weeks into the construction of a new exhibit area in the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Canyon, which will extend into the giant panda viewing area and bring together (but not in the same enclosure!) the scaly, feathered, and furry from the panda’s home region. It’ll be like a reconstruction of “the old neighborhood,” where animals of many species live in proximity, as they would in the wild.

What’s happening? Well, a new construction fence has been erected, replacing the beloved, but temporary,  panda mural wall and allowing even more space to work in. Old concrete works were removed, perching and climbing material stored there was moved to another area, and the beginnings of the pathways graded while maintaining some of the larger trees. It was pretty noisy, but it’s exciting to watch the area beginning to take shape.

And what about the bears? Little Yun Zi is now being housed off exhibit in a completely shielded area as far away from the noise as he can be. Longtime Zoo visitors may remember Shi Shi’s old exhibit: that’s where Yunnie is now. While he is not on exhibit right now, guests may occasionally catch a glimpse of him climbing a tree or strolling about his enclosure from across the street on the elevated walkway’s U-turn (this walkway leads from Lost Forest to Panda Canyon).

Bai Yun and Gao Gao remain in the main viewing area. On noisier days, Bai does have access to her exhibit bedroom, and she is free to move inside. This does take her out of view, but it is quieter, and we appreciate our guests’ understanding her need for quiet. Since spring and the potential of an estrus and mating season are coming, she’s being carefully monitored by researchers and keepers.

Gao remains in his far-right exhibit and seems unbothered by it all. He’s well protected from the noise and has plenty of bamboo, of course, so he’s just fine. Both of the adult pandas recently completed their annual checkups. And Gao has been scent marking and vocalizing—to lure the keepers or Bai Yun? It’s encouraging, but we don’t know for sure just yet. The answer to this question will reveal itself in time, so we all have to be patient.

Rest assured, however, that should estrus begin and a mating season be possible, the animal care staff will put the needs of the pandas above all; isn’t that always the way in Panda Canyon?

Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Redecorating Dynamo.


Redecorating Dynamo

Yun Zi: Who, me?

Upon entering the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station viewing area the other day, one would have been delighted to see, through the newly planted elm tree, little Yun Zi sleeping peacefully on the vertical elm trunk that has apparently become his new favorite napping spot since the access door to the right-hand exhibit was opened the previous Tuesday. How sweet, how winsome, how innocent he looked as viewed from the doorway….

Wait a minute! The new elm tree had effectively blocked to view from the doorway, with its full complement of leaves, but no longer. Closer inspection (and some comparing of notes) revealed that sometime between 6 and 8:45 a.m., the tree was, um, “rearranged.” While not a large tree, it is no sapling and required, as some of you may recall, a crane to place it into the exhibit for planting several months ago. Its trunk is carefully shielded with a clear plastic sleeve, secured with regularly spaced zip-ties.

A bear of Bai Yun’s size could have possibly pushed it over, but the tree was still standing erect; besides, Bai Yun was participating in the hearing study at, which has been described in earlier posts, at that time. Who could have done this deed? Getting a toehold on the ties to reach up and, one by one, rip down (and in one case, rip off) the branches from the trunk? Playing with the removed branch while rolling around the exhibit later in the morning?

Su Lin is safely at China’s Bi Feng Xia, we know, so do you think that there is a hidden strain of would-be arborists in the Bai Yun branch of the family tree, now passed on to Yun Zi?

The animal care staff felt, for many reasons, that it was necessary to remove the many broken branches; it is hoped that Yunni is finished playing with it. But at least a few panda narrators and many regular visitors took secret delight in the evidence of one little panda’s early morning antics and a wonderful reminder of his big sister, the Decorating Diva, Su Lin.

Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, A Big Step Forward.


A Big Step Forward

Yun Zi. Click to enlarge photo.

Tuesday morning, January 18, was exciting here at the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station: it was the first day that Bai Yun and Yun Zi were allowed access to both sides of the main viewing area, an important step in smoothing the transition to Yunni’s final weaning. The steel door at the back of the separating wall was opened, Bai and Yun released into “their” left-hand enclosure, and in short order both moved to the right to investigate this “new” space.

Yun Zi had never been in that area, and it had been a long time and a major renovation since Bai Yun had been in there, the last time being spring, 2009, during breeding season. There was much to see, explore, smell, and scent mark for our mellow mother bear as she slowly wandered, marked, and inspected the area. After a rather short period of time, she settled in to eat some bamboo (both sides having been lavishly supplied), and then she strolled back over to climb up onto her lair and nap in her favorite spot. So comfortable is she in her Zoo home that she appears to be taking all of this in stride.

It was very different for the cub, however. Imagine being released into your own, private, brand-new playground for the very first time. So much to see, so much to climb, every inch to be carefully investigated, with only an occasional glance at Mom! It was a treat for him and a delight for any who happened to be there for his non-stop hour and a half of exploration. Up and down, around and across, through and under every log, bush, rock, and tree. With the scent of his father still so strong, the hollow tree merited special investigation, both inside and out. It was especially gratifying to see him climb horizontally across the section of climbing structure that had been Su Lin’s favorite elm tree before she collapsed and uprooted it, now re-purposed into an aerial pathway for her little brother. He is still a youngster, however, and it took a lot of energy to begin settling in, but our intrepid little guy chose to nap independently on the left side, on the now-familiar climbing structure, away from Mom. Sigh! They grow up so fast.

Gao Gao was, of course, moved to the North Exhibit to allow mother and cub extra space, so it was a big day for him as well. The scent marks of pandas can linger up to three months, so he, too, had to scour the area and lay down his marks. It can take, as we’ve seen in the past, a few days for giant pandas to become comfortably acclimated to a new area, so it would not be unusual for these exploratory behaviors to continue over the next few days. It would be a good time to visit the Zoo or watching Panda Cam to share in the activity. Our main viewing area is open regular hours, and Gao Gao can be seen in the North Exhibit in the mornings and early afternoons.

Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, A Panda New Year.


A Panda New Year

Read what's in store for Yun Zi this year.

Best wishes to all for 2011. It’s a  new year at the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station, and with that comes the promise of many changes for each of our pandas.

Little Yun Zi is now nearly 90 pounds (40 kilograms), by far the largest of the sibling cubs at the age of nearly 17 months. He seems to be growing daily, thanks in no small part to his increasing skill at out-running his mother to get to the veggies and biscuits first. He still prefers the leafy bamboo, so there’s always plenty of that around, since Bai Yun prefers the culm to the leaves on most days, or so it appears.

As Yunnie increases in size and age, it’s becoming more apparent that the time for final weaning and separation is getting closer. (Panda cubs in the wild are weaned by 18 months of age; Yun Zi will be 18 months old on February 5.) We’re seeing more of the rough-and-tumble play and hearing more squeaks and little “barks” as Bai bites harder during these more frequent tussles between mother and cub. And Bai has been observed shoving Yunnie away as he attempts to nurse. This is all a crucial part of the training of a young cub by its mother, a process we’ve witnessed with her four times before. As harsh as it may appear, cubs are not injured and can often outrun Mom, out of reach or up a tree, to take a break. To our great delight, as aggressive as Bai Yun gets, Little Yunnie comes right back at her, time after time.  He’s learning his lessons well.

Yes, the end of this relationship is drawing near. We’re all waiting to see when and how this will unfold. Yunnie’s not the cub his brother was, who was not at all pleased by the separation, or sister Su Lin, who seemed most independent until she and Mom were given access to both sides of the viewing area and she then became a clinging vine, surprising us all. Yun Zi is very much his mother’s son, in size and disposition, mellow and self sufficient. Because of this, we are hoping that the separation process will go smoothly for both mother and cub and make for a truly happy New Year. Keep checking Panda Cam to catch a glimpse of this lively activity.

Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Exhibit Renovation.

For information on how some of our previous cubs handled the weaning process, read about Zhen Zhen’s weaning, starting with Weaning Zhen Zhen: And So It Begins,  from January 26, 2009, and Su Lin’s, starting with Two’s a Crowd from January 28, 2007.