About Author: Michelle Penick

Posts by Michelle Penick


Big Steps Toward Independence

Look, Ma, no paws!

Giant panda Yun Zi is doing great during the slow, step-by-step separation process. Our once-little guy has been such an independent bear! The other panda narrators say that when it comes to eating bamboo, he is one of the most advanced cubs they have ever seen at the San Diego Zoo, with the ability to eat the culm of the larger pieces of bamboo at an early age. Yun Zi often comfortably rests on his log perch at lofty heights during the day, and Zoo guests marvel at how much he has grown in the last 18 months.

As panda researcher Suzanne Hall said in her post, Moving Right Along, even when we give our youngster and his mother, Bai Yun, the opportunity to spend time together, they often just choose to do their own thing. Tuesday afternoon, Yun Zi was having a great time knocking apples, carrots, yams, and leaf eater biscuits from his giant panda toy. The keepers cleverly hung this toy from his favorite log, of course! Yunior (Yun Zi) was confidently navigating the right-hand enclosure to look for more treats after his moment of frolic was over, and Bai Yun only seemed concerned with devouring the lunch portion of her bamboo.

All is going as well as the Panda Team has hoped for, and we are so proud of our (not so little anymore) guy. Yun Zi is already over 91 pounds (41 kilograms) and is getting bigger every day. Can you believe he was the size of a stick of butter when he was first born? This is totally normal, though, for a panda cub; after all, they can grow to be 600 times their birth weight by the time they are 18 months old. Still, it is hard to believe that one day Yun Zi will be around 300 pounds (136 kilograms). Our boy bear still has plenty of growing to do, but he is definitely on the right track.

Michelle Penick is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Fond Panda Memories.


Fond Panda Memories

Remember when Yun Zi was this small?

As we find the winter holidays behind us, things are a little quieter in most of our homes; however, this is not true for the pandas! Hundreds to thousands of people come to the San Diego Zoo each day to visit our famous black-and-white bears, and some of those visitors can’t help but fall in love with them. The longer I work as a panda narrator, the longer I realize how many people come on a weekly basis for their regular visits to our pandas, and I know that many more of you who can’t physically come to our Zoo each week still visit by tuning into our Panda Cam.

From the guests who have been coming to our Zoo for decades and make the pandas a part of their morning walk to our panda hobby photographers to our generous donors and members to those who are viewing a live panda for the first time, everyone seems to have their own unique experiences. Some people have even cried tears of joy when they see our panda cub playing with his mom. One of the things that makes the pandas stand out stars at the Zoo—their silly antics! I asked some of the regular visitors to the Giant Panda Research Station what their fondest memories of the pandas were over the years, and here are a few:

One regular says that one of her favorite moments was during the separation process with Zhen Zhen. She said that the keepers opened the gate for Mom and her cub to have access to one another in the morning, and our mother bear, Bai Yun was still sleeping on her back. The cub sneaked over to Mom and touched her toe. Bai Yun, startled, jumped up to see what was at her feet; once she realized it was her cub, she relaxed and pulled the young panda close. I love that story because it is a great reminder of what an awesome mother Bai Yun has been to her cubs.

Another guest says he remembers Zhen Zhen as a cub playing with her red ball. He said he would have watched her for hours if he could. Anyone who remembers Zhen Zhen, now three years old and living in a panda sanctuary in China, remembers her silly antics. She rivaled any circus clown with her acrobatics. I have fond memories of her sideways somersaults—she would roll from the back of the exhibit near the tree to the front of the exhibit near the moat to the delight of all. One day she even hung upside down on a branch to get a better look at me. Oh, that Zhen Zhen!

Yun Zi, our current cub, was so tiny at first but bold. I remember watching him trying to climb the walls of his enclosure from the Panda Cam television screen between the two main exhibits and quietly cheering him on with the rest of the guests, knowing that he was always getting closer to passing his climbing test in the back and would soon be coming out on exhibit to meet the world face to face.

One guest came all the way from Washington this winter to visit our pandas. She told me our father bear, Gao Gao, was so special to her, and she felt that Gao had such a gentle, calm nature about him. She was definitely in love!

We hope to see you regulars and new guests soon, and if you stop by for a visit to the Giant Panda Research Station, please say hi and share your memories with us. I hope you all will have an opportunity to witness the pandas doing something that will inspire even more fond memories of our beloved bamboo bears.

Michelle Penick is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.