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About Author: Megan Owen

Posts by Megan Owen

29

Yun Zi in China

Yun Zi arrives in the quarantine area.

Yun Zi arrives in the quarantine area. Photo credit: Wolong

Life is Good in Dujiangyan

We were all sad to see giant panda Yun Zi leave the San Diego Zoo and move to China, and honestly, we all miss him! However, we were not surprised to hear reports from keeper Jennifer Becerra (see Yun Zi Travels to China) that he traveled well, and it looked like the transition to his new life in China would be very smooth.

Yun Zi explores his new digs.

Yun Zi explores his new digs. Photo credit: Wolong

The changes a panda might experience when he or she moves to a new, far-away home include some changes in diet, new voices, different smells, and, for bears heading to China, the presence of a larger population of other pandas. Experiencing these novel stimuli for the first time may be both challenging and exciting for a young panda, and given Yun Zi’s generally spirited personality, I have no doubt that this was very exciting for him!

A good place to leave a scent mark?

A good place to leave a scent mark? Photo credit: Wolong

Yun Zi is now living at the Duijiangyan Base (part of the China Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Pandas), where there are 21 pandas, including 10 adults. Reports from our colleagues indicate that he is doing very well. Now 4½ years old, Yun Zi is approaching adulthood, but he is not yet of breeding age. That said, this breeding season could provide Yun Zi with some indirect experience, as he may hear the vocal communication of courting pandas at the facility and potentially catch the scent of a panda female in estrus. In a couple of years, he may be ready to experience panda courtship firsthand, but for now, he is simply enjoying spring in the Sichuan Province.

Megan Owen is an associate director with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post,
Panda News: The Good and the Bittersweet
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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.

52

Polar Bears, Climate Change, and Mi (Ton Teiow)

Tatqiq's wild counterparts need more snow days.

Tatqiq’s wild counterparts need more snow days.

Mi Ton Teiow, the whimsical “bear” ambassador for the IUCN’s Bear Specialist Group (see post A Whimsical Bear Ambassador Arrives), has continued his travels, along with staff from the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. With these travels, Mi is gaining experience in the multi-faceted world of bear conservation, which often includes extended periods of sitting and talking! While Mi might be anxious to get outside and do field research, our bear ambassador also understands that bringing people together to discuss the nuts and bolts of bear conservation is an important, and necessary, part of the process.

Recently, Mi traveled to the Toledo Zoo to sit in on the annual meeting of the Polar Bear Species Survival Plan (SSP). The role of the SSP (for polar bears or any other conservation-dependent species) is to bring together experts from zoos around the country to ensure that the members of the zoo community are being as effective as possible in supporting conservation efforts for the species. The focus of this SSP meeting was to enhance the synergy between zoo-based research, field-based research, and effective polar bear conservation. Speakers from the U.S. Geological Survey and researchers from the San Diego Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo, and Memphis Zoo presented overviews on current research and results, as well as ideas for the future.

Mi (center) and Megan (standing second from the right) pose with other members of the Polar Bear SSP.

Mi (center) and Megan (standing second from the right) pose with members of the Polar Bear SSP.

While listening in on discussions regarding conservation research, Mi also learned about the primary threat to polar bears: greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities have led to measurable and rapid changes in global climate patterns. The degree and character of these changes is not uniform, and different regions, ecosystems, and species are being impacted in different ways. When it comes to climate warming, scientists have documented the greatest degree of warming at the Earth’s polar regions.

This is bad news for the polar bear, because increases in both air and ocean temperatures in the Arctic have resulted in rapid losses of sea ice over the past several decades. Polar bears depend on the sea ice for their survival. Without the sea ice, polar bears cannot feed themselves or reproduce successful. This dependence on sea ice has left polar bears vulnerable to extinction in the face of climate change.

While the situation is critical for polar bears, it is not hopeless. Each and every one of us has the ability to help save polar bears by making small changes in our daily lives, such as turning off unneeded lights and riding our bikes more, to reduce our carbon footprint along the way. Because zoos have tremendous access to a large number and wide range of people, we play a critical role in polar bear conservation. As a conservation organization, we are responsible to get the word out, and we are happy that we were able to share our work with ambassador Mi Ton Teiow.

Megan Owen is an associate director for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.
Read about Ambassador Mi Ton Teiow’s previous adventure in Black Bears: A Conservation Success.

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Pandas: How Far We’ve Come

Su Lin is at home in China.

Su Lin is at home in China.

Traveling to China is always an adventure, and the prospect of seeing old friends and long-time colleagues at the International Panda Symposium in Chengdu was exciting! The symposium was truly a great opportunity to listen to scientists from around the world share their updates on current research projects, overviews of the incredible successes for panda conservation achieved over the last 20 years, and important directions for our conservation research efforts for the years to come. We also had an opportunity to visit the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding, where we saw the many panda cubs and young adult bears that have been born there in recent years. There is still so much to learn regarding pandas and their conservation, but it is amazing how far we’ve come in the past 20 years!

On this trip I was also able to check in with staff from Wolong and Bi Feng Xia regarding the status of the San Diego Zoo-born pandas. Having watched their births, first days of life, and years of development into healthy sub-adults, I think we all love to hear how Hua Mei, Su Lin, Zhen Zhen, and Mei Sheng are doing.

Hua Mei, our first-born cub, continues to show that she has her mother’s “good-mom” genes. Now 14 years old, she produced another cub (a male) on July 18, 2013, at Wolong, making her the mother of 10! Both mother and her newest cub are doing well.

Eight-year-old Su Lin had a normal estrus this past spring at Bi Feng Xia and mated naturally several times but did not produce any cubs this year. Regardless, she is doing well and living at Bi Feng Xia. Ten-year-old Mei Sheng mated naturally this year at Bi Feng Xia, too, but we don’t know yet whether he has sired any cubs, as DNA tests are not performed right away to determine fatherhood.

Little Zhen Zhen, now six years old, is currently weighing in at a robust 220 pounds (100 kilograms)! She mated in 2013 and produced a cub that, sadly, did not survive. Zhen Zhen is also living at Bi Feng Xia and doing well.

Megan Owen is an associate director for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, News about Zhen Zhen.

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News about Zhen Zhen

Zhen

Zhen Zhen relaxes after her 3rd birthday festivities in 2010.

Back in February, we reported with excitement that panda Zhen Zhen had bred for the first time and was the first female at the Bi Feng Xia center in China to do so in 2013 (see post Panda Zhen Zhen). For newer panda fans, Zhen Zhen is Bai Yun and Gao Gao’s youngest daughter and moved to China in September 2010. Well, it is with some sadness that we share the latest news on Zhen Zhen: On May 6, Zhen Zhen gave birth to a single cub; however, the cub died soon after birth.

Of course, we know that Zhen Zhen, who will be six years old this August, will have many more opportunities to breed and have cubs in the future, and there is no reason to doubt that she will be successful down the road. An early May birth is very unusual for pandas, with most of the births being recorded between July and September, after a variable period of diapause and a 50-day period of gestation.

Megan Owen is a conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Our Pandas in China.

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Update: Our Pandas in China

You continue to make us proud, Su Lin!

You continue to make us proud, Su Lin! Photo credit: Meghan Martin

With the arrival of spring comes some exciting news from China: panda Su Lin has bred! Seven-year-old Su Lin, who was born at the San Diego Zoo in August 2005, bred with male Yuan Yuan several times at Bi Feng Xia, and all appeared to go perfectly. We are waiting to hear whether she breeds with any more males over the next few days, and we have high hopes that this will be a successful pregnancy for Su Lin. Her first cub was born in July 2011 (see Su Lin Gives Birth!). We were also happy to receive some recent photos of Su Lin, and she looks happy and healthy and is as beautiful as ever!

Hua Mei's newest cub has even us hardened researchers saying "Awww!" Photo credit: Meghan Martin

Hua Mei’s newest cub has even us hardened researchers saying “Awww!” Photo credit: Meghan Martin

We’ve also received a recent photo of 13-year-old Hua Mei’s latest cub. As you may recall, Hua Mei was born here in August 1999 and has given birth to nine cubs over the years since she moved to China in 2004. It is such a pleasure to see Bai Yun’s newest grandcub, a girl, born in August 2012! We’ve also learned that Hua Mei and Su Lin have been neighbors at Bi Feng Xia.

Mei Sheng has also had opportunities to mate this year, but thus far he’s shown that he still has some learning to do. Even though Mei Sheng, born here in August 2003 and now nine years old, is a fully adult panda, male pandas tend to mature later than females, so there is still plenty of time left for him to become a more adept breeder.

The breeding season has been in full swing for pandas at Bi Feng Xia for about a month now, and panda females may continue to come into estrus through June. While each female only has a single estrus, and just a few days of interest in breeding, males will have opportunities to breed throughout the entire spring. We will keep you posted, and all of our fingers are crossed in hopes for a successful year there.

Megan Owen is a conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

105

Panda Zhen Zhen

Zhen Zhen was busy climbing trees just before her estrus period started.

Zhen Zhen was busy climbing trees just before her estrus period started. Photo credit: Meghan Martin

Zhen Zhen is now 5 1/2 years old, and our latest news from China indicates that she is doing very well! The third cub of Bai Yun and Gao, we’ve just learned that she was the first female to come into estrous this year in BiFengXia, and that she bred with two males, Lu Lu and Yuan Yuan. Zhen Zhen and her big sister, Su Lin, moved to China in September 2010 to be a part of the panda breeding program there.

While we can’t tell at this point whether or not these breeding encounters were successful (i.e., will result in a pregnancy), all reports suggest that her behavior was perfect. We are hopeful that she’ll have cubs later this summer, and we’ll keep you posted! Congratulations to Zhen Zhen!

Megan Owen is a conservation program manager for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Speaking to Friends about Pandas.

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Speaking to Friends about Pandas

Xiao Liwu is just one example of our panda conservation program’s success.

Recently, I had the opportunity to give a presentation to several hundred San Diego Zoo Global donors at a Circle of Friends Holiday Breakfast. I presented an overview of our science-based, collaborative panda conservation program, focusing on both the challenges we’ve faced and the incredible successes we’ve enjoyed over the past 16 years. With hundreds of the Zoo’s friends gathered, we celebrated the birth of Xiao Liwu and the brighter future for pandas that Bai Yun, Gao Gao, and Shi Shi have given us.

Of course, the birth of Xiao Liwu was more than a joyous occasion; it was also a historic milestone for giant pandas and the San Diego Zoo. With the birth of Xiao Liwu, Bai Yun became the second-oldest female to have ever given birth in captivity, as well as the most successful panda mom outside of China. And, thanks to Bai Yun, our Giant Panda Conservation Program became the most successful breeding program outside of China. This short list makes me incredibly proud! And I also have to admit that it is simply wonderful to have yet another incredibly cute panda cub to watch every day!

Our giant panda story really began in earnest back in 1996, with the arrival of Bai Yun and Shi Shi. Back then, we really knew very little about giant pandas. At the time, we knew that giant pandas were solitary mammals and that they fed exclusively on bamboo. We knew that pandas were seasonal breeders, and that the females were only receptive to breeding for a few short days during each cycle. We also knew that giant pandas were critically endangered and that the track record for captive breeding was very poor. We knew that we had a daunting task ahead of us and an understanding that because giant pandas garner immense public attention, the world would be watching us as we embarked on this critical conservation mission.

Under the leadership of Don Lindburg, we put together a Panda Team that included scientists, animal care specialists, and educators. Ron Swaisgood made incredible inroads at the Wolong breeding center in China and initiated more than a decade of invaluable scientific discovery regarding giant panda behavior and communication. Throughout this period, numerous people from the Giant Panda Team visited Wolong to do conservation research (including myself), and members of the Wolong team visited us here. These exchanges proved invaluable for scientific research and for improving how we managed giant pandas, during the breeding season and beyond.

Since the birth of Xiao Liwu, I have spent much time thinking about how much we have achieved in the past 16 years, as well as about how much we still need to learn about these amazing animals. The plight of giant pandas has improved in some ways since 1996, but they are still critically endangered, and so, through our conservation research program, and with the support of our many friends, we continue to work toward a brighter future for giant pandas.

After I gave my presentation to our Circle of Friends, I spent a great deal of time speaking to people in the group. It was incredible to experience the outpouring of interest in giant pandas and the support for the conservation work that we do. As I looked around the tent, I saw a number of people who had been volunteers in support of our conservation programs over the years: volunteers who had been part of our panda research team in San Diego, and volunteers who have helped us connect our giant pandas to the public at large. I feel a deep debt of gratitude to all of our supporters, without whom we could not have achieved everything that we have, for giant pandas and the other species and habitats we work with.

Thank you all for your support, and I wish you the happiest of holiday seasons!

Megan Owen is a conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Polar Bears and Climate Change.

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Polar Bears and Climate Change

This is not a test!

Each day, the first thing I do when I sit down at my computer is to check with the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) for the latest information on sea ice conditions and sea ice extent in the Arctic. At the beginning of August, it looked like the changes in sea ice extent over the summer were on pace to approach, or maybe even equal, the historic 2007 low. However, over the last couple of weeks, it has become clear that we were on a pace to overtake the 2007 record low and set a new minimum record for sea ice extent.

Several days ago, I checked the latest data; not only had we surpassed the 2007 low, we did it several weeks ahead of when the sea ice is typically at its lowest. This means we still have a few more weeks of sea ice melt to go, and the ultimate sea ice nadir for 2012 has not yet been reached. It is not hard to connect the dots and see that this is bad news for polar bears. However, what may not be obvious to most people is that this is bad news for wildlife all over the world and bad news for us.

Polar bears and the Arctic sea ice have long been noted as a “canary in a coal mine”; the changes in the Arctic environment provide a warning—a clear, loud, and un-ignorable warning—of how dramatically climate warming is changing our planet. We have to reduce our carbon footprint, and we have to do it NOW!

Even in light of this grim news, there are still signs that we are beginning to turn things around. Recent surveys have shown that an increasing majority of Americans understand that climate change is real and that the warming trends that have been documented over the past several decades are the result of human greenhouse gas emissions. The results of these surveys also suggest that most people understand that climate change will have catastrophic impacts on polar bears and other Arctic wildlife. For many of us, making the connection between our own everyday actions and the persistence of polar bears in the wild is enough to get us to make energy efficient choices.

However, we must also understand that, while the impacts of climate change are most vividly obvious in the remote Arctic, they are also impacting other habitats all over the world, including our own backyards, and that the resulting changes to our Earth will have far-reaching consequences for people everywhere. We have to do more. We have to move from “understanding” the impacts of climate change to “taking action” to reduce our carbon footprint.

Each and every one of us has the power to change our habitats in order to reduce our own personal greenhouse gas emissions. Future generations, and future generations of polar bears, are counting on you to reduce your carbon footprint.

Megan Owen is a conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Panda Cub: 704 Grams.

Calculate your own carbon footprint and get suggestions and easy household tips that help you reduce your carbon footprint (and energy bill), or visit Polar Bears International.

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Panda Cub: 704 Grams

Breathtakingly adorable! Click on image for a larger view.

All is well!

This morning, at about 7:15, we had our first opportunity to examine Bai Yun’s newest cub. For the past week or so, Bai Yun has developed a regular habit of leaving the den to get breakfast in her sun room. Today, we took advantage of Bai Yun’s breakfast outing to get our first real look at the cub. The exam lasted only 3 minutes, but in that time our veterinarians were able to determine that the 25-day-old cub is healthy and weighs in at a robust 704 grams (24.8 ounces or 1.55 pounds). For comparison, Yun Zi weighed 1,259 grams (2.8 pounds) at 29 days (see Baby’s First Exam), Zhen Zhen weighed 1,020 grams or 2.2 pounds at 26 days, and Su Lin was 618 grams (22 ounces) at 22 days. The cub was quiet at the outset of the exam, but soon enough gave us a great display of its strong lungs!

Veterinarians were able to do a quick, yet thorough, exam of the cub’s limbs, mouth, ears, and more, and we’re happy to report that everything looks good! While it may be a few more weeks before we know what the cub’s sex is, or whether or not it has webbed toes or a spot on its tail, today was an important step in confirming that this cub has the most important quality that a panda cub can have: good health!

Bai Yun also showed us her best maternal behavior. She began eating her breakfast away from the cub, in the sun room, as usual, when the cub emitted a loud squawk during the exam. Bai Yun made it clear that she wanted to return to the den to be with the cub, so the exam was halted. Her maternal behavior continues to be exemplary and, clearly, she is doing a great job taking care of her latest cub. We are all so lucky to see this amazing mother in action!

Megan Owen is a conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Panda Cub: True Colors.

Note: See more exam photos on our Panda Photo Gallery.