Pandas

Pandas

105

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.

49

Still Ga Ga for Gao Gao

Gao Gao places his arm in a metal sleeve for a blood pressure check.

Gao Gao places his arm in a metal sleeve for a blood pressure check.

Just for our blog readers, the following is an advance look at an article that will be published in the upcoming June digital issue of ZOONOOZ magazine. To see this and all our digital issues, download the ZOONOOZ app for iPad or the web reader version for your desktop, FREE!

Keeping elderly animals comfortable and healthy can entail rearranging animal groupings to avoid individuals in their golden years getting inadvertently roughed up by younger animals, providing medication for aching joints and other age-related ailments, and monitoring potential health issues with noninvasive exams. The latter requires the animal’s cooperation and can take time to train and condition the animal to go along with it. For instance, tracking the blood pressure of Gao Gao, our 24-year-old male giant panda, requires collaboration between keepers, veterinary staff, and panda. The calm competency of the staff involved and the sweet trust of the black-and-white bear are impressive!

Equipped with apples cut into bite-sized pieces, a small bucket of biscuit balls and bamboo bread, and a blood-pressure monitor attached to an extension cord, keepers and veterinary technicians got into position while I watched the procedure. Gao Gao ambled past, dapper and darling all at once, heading into the squeeze cage and eager to get down to business with a series of enthusiastic bleats and neighs (excited giant panda vocalizations). A steel sleeve, with a cutout area on the top that aligns with the bear’s forearm, was secured to the sturdy cage. Knowing that this noninvasive medical procedure entails his favorite foods, Gao Gao plunged his arm into the sleeve, grasping the metal bar at the end. “We use this sleeve to collect blood samples as well,” explained Brian Opitz, registered veterinary technician (RVT) at the Zoo, “so he knows to hold onto the bar inside the sleeve. To get his blood pressure, we just wait a few minutes for him to let go of the bar and let us place the cuff around his forearm.” All the while, Gao Gao is being hand-fed his favorite snacks, peering at us from behind those big, black eye spots.

Gao Gao does this procedure willingly.

Gao Gao is amply rewarded with tasty treats for his cooperation.

Gao Gao is a senior bear (in the wild, pandas can live up to about 20 years and up to 30 years in managed care), and keepers and vets go to great lengths to ensure he remains healthy. “Keepers put in a lot of time in training for these procedures so we can stay on top of possible medical issues without having to use anesthesia to collect bio-samples,” said Jill Kuntz, RVT at the Zoo. Over time, the grinding action of chewing thick bamboo stalks can wear down a panda’s teeth, as is the case with Gao Gao. Hence, he is given tasty little homemade biscuit balls made of dried bamboo, which he devoured with great gusto throughout the procedure.

Keepers and vets have been gathering baseline data—no one really knows what a normal blood pressure range is for a giant panda—on Gao Gao since May 2013. A few other zoos are also participating in this blood-pressure project. Every 7 to 14 days, staff gathers to collect 3 blood-pressure readings from Gao Gao, which he is agreeable to doing on either arm. “We also trained Yun Zi [Gao Gao’s son] to do this before he left for China,” said keeper Liz Simmons, “but he grabbed the blood- pressure cuff and tore it up.” Undaunted, they continued the training process, rewarding the younger bear for placing his arm in the steel sleeve while keepers peeled the Velcro apart to get him accustomed to the sound of the blood-pressure cuff. Soon, he was going along with the procedure, a skill that will surely come in handy in his homeland.

More wit

The information gained from these weekly readings will help us care for our senior bear.

Accepting the blood-pressure cuff is one of many husbandry behaviors the pandas are patiently trained to do through positive reinforcement. They also present a paw, belly, or rump to keepers, which is helpful in monitoring the animals’ health. Bai Yun, our prolific female panda, will even allow ultrasound procedures so veterinarians can monitor her pregnancies. It’s clear that the keepers are deeply committed to their charges. “We do this training for their health,” said Karen Scott, senior keeper. “That’s what we’re here for. We don’t force them.”

As the bottom of the treat bucket becomes visible, and his blood-pressure readings have been duly noted, Gao Gao calmly looks us all over. A keeper puts a few drops of rubbing alcohol on the floor, and the bear happily rolls around on it. “Usually animals balk at the scent of rubbing alcohol, but Gao Gao loves it—it’s like catnip to him,” explained Brian. It’s the ultimate treat! Gao Gao continued to rub and roll in the acrid odor, then proceeded to scent mark with his own “cologne.” With the procedure completed, he was free to mosey back out on exhibit. “We are lucky to have such an easygoing, tractable panda who allows us to do these exciting and important health procedures as he ages,” said Liz. And we are all fortunate to share the noble journey of Gao Gao’s life, quirks and all.

Watch our pandas daily on Panda Cam!

Karyl Carmignani is a staff writer for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, With a “Headstart,” Local Turtles Make a Comeback. /

60

“Go potty,” Xiao Liwu

What a clever panda boy we have!

What a clever panda boy we have!

Many of you have wondered how we trained the San Diego Zoo’s panda youngster, Xiao Liwu, to provide a urine sample upon request. Teaching a bear to urinate on command takes a lot of patience and observation of the bear and his or her habits. We used a method called capturing a behavior.

We noticed that when “Mr. Wu” shifts off exhibit and goes into the tunnel, which has a concrete floor, he would, fairly regularly, go to the bathroom before he went into his bedroom. Urine is a very important tool for information about any animal to determine health or hormone levels. So, we started keeping a water syringe and extra apples with us when we started shifting him in at night. When we “caught” him going potty, we would say “go potty” and show him the syringe. When he was done, we would offer him his verbal cue, “Good,” and an apple reward.

After about two weeks of this, he started to go potty when we asked him to. We then use the syringe to collect his urine sample off the concrete floor, which is cleaned every day and night. No cup or pan needed!

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Yun Zi Travels to China, Part 2.

70

Entertaining Panda Cub Xiao Liwu

Xiao Liwu relaxes in his off-exhibit bedroom next to his rocking "horse." See, he likes apples!

Xiao Liwu relaxes in his off-exhibit bedroom next to his rocking “horse.” See, he likes apples!

What has our panda cub been up to, now that he’s been on his own for a few weeks? Keeper Jennifer Becerra filled me in on all things “Wu,” and I’m eager to share what I learned with Xiao Liwu’s many fans!

Jennifer says Xiao Liwu, now 20 months old, is doing quite well. He is not as playful as his older siblings have been and instead has become a bamboo-eating machine. Now weighing 70.5 pounds (32 kilograms), “Mr. Wu” eats about 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of bamboo each day—a lot for a little bear! Shunning most non-bamboo food items, he is developing a taste for Fuji apple slices and applesauce. Lately, keepers have been blending steamed carrots, yams, applesauce, and banana-flavored biscuits into a mush for him. They serve the concoction in a metal pan, which you may have seen in his enclosure.

Lest you think Wu is all about food, don’t worry. He does enjoy playing in a long, plastic tray filled with ice cubes. He climbs all over a recycled plastic “rocking horse,” which is really in the shape of a whale, that is in his off-exhibit bedroom area. And you’ll be proud to know he is doing well with his training. He already urinates on command when he hears the words “go potty”! Being able to collect this vital fluid for periodic testing is part of our animal care protocol. Mr. Wu knows how to “target” or touch his nose to a target stick, and he knows to put his paws up, paws down, and to sit when asked to do so. He also enjoys his new bedding material, called excelsior hay, that is on top of the cave structure. This hay product was on his Wish List—thank you, donors!

Ice cubes feel good on a warm day!

This ice feels good on a warm day!

And then there are scents! Our pandas love to roll and anoint themselves with different odors. Their keepers found a fragrance company that provides a huge variety of choices. They all like the smell of cinnamon, but I found it interesting that each panda also has his or her favorites. For Mr. Wu, it’s wintergreen. Bai Yun enjoys those in the mint family: wintergreen, peppermint, and spearmint. Yun Zi, who is now living in China, loved honeysuckle and earthworm! And Gao Gao? He tends to lean toward more musky scents, but his all-time favorite is rubbing alcohol!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Delightful Tasmanian Devils.

33

Yun Zi Travels to China, Part 2

Dr. Beth (at right) and Jennifer pose with their flight captain.

Dr. Beth (at right) and Jennifer pose with their flight captain.

Be sure to read Yun Zi Travels to China, Part 1!

Panda Yun Zi was a natural traveler in the van all the way to the Los Angeles Airport. He sat quietly in his crate and ate bamboo all the way. When we got to the airport, he decided to take a nap while we waited to get checked by security. We had to wait a short time before Yun Zi and all of his luggage was strapped down safely onto a pallet and ready to load onto the plane. The pilots were very kind to ask what temperature and light settings would make Yun Zi most comfortable in cargo during our long flight.

The time flew by, and before I knew it, Yun Zi, Dr. Beth Bicknese, and I were boarded onto the plane. Yun Zi was nice and calm all the way onto the plane. Not me! I was super-nervous, as this was my first flight overseas and flying on a large cargo plane. We met with all five pilots and introduced them to Yun Zi. He did extremely well meeting the pilots, and they even spoke a little Chinese (Mandarin) so he could practice.

Jennifer and Dr. Beth meet Yun Zi's new keepers upon arrival.

Jennifer and Dr. Beth meet Yun Zi’s new keepers upon arrival.

Our flight departed around 9 p.m., and we were off for our 22-hour journey. The airlines and the pilots were wonderful, as we all felt like we were in first class. They understood our needs and the care we needed to provide Yun Zi on his flight. Dr. Beth and I did not get much sleep on the plane, as we were making sure Yun Zi was as comfortable as possible. It was extremely easy to access Yun Zi, as he was only behind one door, and we checked on him every three to four hours.

I will tell you he was a much better flyer than I! Every time I checked on him, he was resting and calm. He enjoyed his biscuits, bread, and honey water in first-class style. I didn’t sleep much at all, wanting to make sure he was comfortable, and I was reassured every time I checked on him that he was calm. The flight was entirely at night as we flew up the coastline to Alaska and over the Pacific Ocean and landed in Shanghai two hours early, around 6 a.m.

When we landed, we were greeted by airline security, and the pilots quickly took us through customs so we could get back to Yun Zi. It was wintertime in Shanghai, and lucky Yun Zi had his fur coat on, as it was 40 degrees Fahrenheit outside. We waited for Yun Zi to be unloaded and noticed his small welcoming party (small because we landed two hours early!). Dr. Beth and I were immediately introduced to one of his new keepers (Mr. Strong) and veterinarians (Mr. Deng). They checked on Yun Zi and offered him a fresh apple. Yun Zi was polite but decided he would rather sleep.

And off he goes to his new home!

And off he goes to his new home!

Dr. Beth and I passed along Yun Zi’s training video (we had made a video for his new keepers to show them what he knows so far) and all his information to his new keepers. Mr. Deng asked several typical questions about Yun Zi: how much he eats, how much he poops in a day, his favorite scents, and favorite toys. We talked about his training and how he likes to see people.

I know Yun Zi is in good hands with his new staff and was ready for his journey to Wolong with them. I did leave a little piece of my heart in Shanghai that day, but I know Yun Zi will do well in China.

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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.

40

What to Eat When There’s Nothing to Eat?

Bear ambassador Mi Ton Teiow finds relatively shallow snow, but no food, as the northern winter begins.

Bear ambassador Mi Ton Teiow finds relatively shallow snow, but no food, as the northern winter begins.

The answer? Nothing.

Most of us are familiar with the idea that some bears spend long periods of time in dens, inactive and not consuming significant amounts of food or water. Some bears in some locations survive eating nothing by doing almost nothing. They become inactive, which is sometimes called winter sleep or hibernation. Although you may be familiar with this aspect of bear ecology, have you thought about how incredible it is? These big mammals can go without eating or drinking for months, sometimes while birthing and nursing cubs, yet wake up without bedsores or weakened muscles! This is why the physiology of bears, including that of giant pandas and polar bears, has been a hot field of research.

The only way for a wild American black bear to survive for months without food in the northern U.S. is to save energy by hibernating in a safe, insulated den. The hole to the right of the tree trunk is the only obvious indication that there is an American black bear below the snow.

The only way for a wild American black bear to survive for months without food in the northern US is to save energy by hibernating in a safe, insulated den. The hole to the right of the tree trunk is the only obvious indication that there is an American black bear below the snow.

Although all female bears seclude themselves in dens to give birth to cubs, not all bears enter dens for long periods of time. There’s even variation within species in whether or not individual bears remain in dens or for how long. Researchers have found that in general, bears spend long periods in dens not to avoid cold temperatures, but to reduce their metabolic requirements when there is not enough food to survive environmental conditions. So, in the southern part of their range where their energy balance can remain positive, individual brown bears, Asiatic black bears, and American black bears may not den except to give birth. At last year’s meeting of the International Association for Bear Research and Management (see post, A Whimsical Bear Ambassador Arrives), Lorraine Scotson and Dave Garshelis reported that some sun bears might den for periods of time in the most northern parts of their range, meaning that non-reproductive denning may occur among at least half of the world’s bear species.

The holes melted in the snow are made by the black bear’s respiration.

The holes melted in the snow are made by the black bear’s respiration.

The giant panda is one bear species that has not been known to den in response to a relative lack of food, and perhaps it cannot do so. During the rare times when all the bamboo plants in an area have flowered and then died, the giant pandas have left the area in search of food; they have not entered dens. Perhaps this is because a bamboo die-off is unpredictable from the giant panda’s point of view, or perhaps this is because a giant panda eating bamboo cannot build up sufficient energy reserves to be able to wait out the lean time in a den, or maybe both factors play a role.

Adult polar bears also do not enter dens solely to avoid food shortages. Pregnant polar bears do spend prolonged periods of time in dens, but biologists think other adult polar bears don’t do so. However, polar bears in some populations regularly fast for extended periods when sea ice conditions don’t allow them to hunt. As for other bears, anything that causes a polar bear to expend more energy, whether inside or outside of a den, or to fast for a longer period of time, makes it less likely that the bear will survive. Climate change is doing just that by reducing the amount of sea ice available to polar bears: the bears expend more energy and go without eating for a longer period of time, creating a great challenge for the conservation of this species (see Polar Bears, Climate Change, and Mi Ton Teiow).

Hibernating bears often line their den with leaves, twigs, and grasses, insulating themselves from the cold ground and conserving additional energy.

Hibernating bears often line their den with leaves, twigs, and grasses, insulating themselves from the cold ground and conserving additional energy.

The Bear Specialist Group’s Ambassador Mi Ton Teiow recently made a visit to the northern US, where he found plenty of snow but little food for bears. After a short stay in this area, which receives an average of 45 inches of snow per year, the ambassador returned (fled?) back to sunny San Diego, where the last measurable snow fell on the city in 1967. The odds are good that Ambassador Mi will not be snow camping in San Diego any time soon.

Russ Van Horn is a scientist with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read his previous post, Courtship in Front of the Camera.

262

Xiao Liwu: Weaning Wrap-up

Xiao LiwuLate last week, we separated Xiao Liwu from his mother for the last time. He remained in the main viewing exhibits for a few days while Bai Yun was shifted out of the area so that they were not across a door from one another. We have found in the past that in the first few days post-weaning, the cub can be quite vocal, calling for mother as it wanders about. This can arouse a response from Bai Yun; therefore, we find it best to put some distance between them to allow our adult female to remain relaxed.

As anticipated, our littlest bear has shown some tendency toward wandering and vocalizing in the last few days. This is normal. As mentioned in a previous post, the cub is always the one most unhappy about the separation and would prefer to prolong his or her relationship with momma bear. The lure of a constant companion, playmate, and milk source is strong! Her absence from the cub’s life is something the youngster clearly responds to. However, past cubs seem to move on from their discontent within about a week or so, and we expect Xiao Liwu will follow suit.

For her part, Bai Yun does not seem to reciprocate the sentiment that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Keepers have reported that she is doing very well post-separation. The only restlessness observed with her are those typical of food anticipation, the same bouts observed when the cub was with her daily. Otherwise, Bai Yun is very focused on priority number one: her bamboo and other food. For our matriarch, it’s business as usual. Her job of cub rearing now done, she appears thoroughly content.

Xiao Liwu has been shifted off exhibit to the upper bedroom area where he is closer to his keepers. This is beneficial to the little bear, as the keepers are poised to fill some of the social void left by his mother’s absence. Already, they have had nice sessions with him during which they have been able to hand-feed him apple slices and offer him back scratches. The apple slices are a small victory because, as you may recall, he has been unwilling to eat anything but bamboo to this point. Having a food source over which the keepers can bond with the youngster will enable them to build a stronger relationship. These bonding sessions become an important foundation for future training and husbandry that requires cooperation and mutual trust between keepers and animal.

While Xiao Liwu will be off exhibit for some time to facilitate his keeper-bonding experience, there is a silver lining for some of our panda fans. Patriarch Gao Gao has been shifted back to the main viewing area, where he will remain for the next few months. When you observe the bears, you may notice that both Gao Gao and Bai Yun have small shaved patches now, as both underwent routine veterinary check-ups at the end of last week. With that out of the way, and weaning complete, our panda facility will now settle into a new routine that will be the status quo for the near term.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Weaning Xiao Liwu: Leafy Greens.

111

Weaning Xiao Liwu: Leafy Greens

Xiao Liwu is surrounded by leafy greens.

Xiao Liwu is surrounded by leafy greens.

After many days of short separations, giant pandas Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu were doing well. Both bears had a few hours each morning to be on their own, and both spent that time eating heartily. Reunions between them at the midday feed were non-events. Although occasional nursing bouts were observed, it did not appear that the frequency of nursing had been accelerated. Further, the duration of observed nursing bouts was very short, lasting only about two minutes. This suggested that either mother Bai Yun’s milk supply had begun to dwindle or that the nursing was more about comfort-seeking than calorie-seeking on the part of our youngster, Xiao Liwu.

Since no other comfort-seeking behaviors had been observed, we opted to move forward with our weaning protocol. Last week, we lengthened the time the two bears are separated. The two are no longer reunited at midday and instead are separate still as they are served lunch. Access to each other is now delayed until the end of the workday, when the last keeper is ready to head home.

Did you notice? Probably not, since the bears showed no overt response to this change. We have only one report of “Wu” knocking on the door that separated mother from son, and it was a brief event. They are both taking this change very much in stride. In fact, by all accounts, Wu seems to be handling this separation better than any of his siblings. He is a very relaxed bear.

I can’t say why it is that he seems so much better able to adapt to the weaning process than his siblings. Perhaps it is because of his penchant for bamboo. He still refuses to eat anything but his leafy greens, despite our keepers’ gallant attempts to offer him something—anything—that he might like as an alternate treat. We know that adult pandas have to spend a lot of time feeding on bamboo to meet their caloric needs. Perhaps Wu is not so concerned about weaning because he, too, is very focused on bamboo feeding. To get his calories, he isn’t relying on carrots and apples and Gao Gao bread and honey-soaked softened biscuits (keepers have been really trying to entice him!), so he has to take in as much bamboo as he can get his paws on, and there is little time to worry about his mother.

In fact, these weaning separations may be helping him to some degree. Our little panda actually gained some weight in the first nine days of our separation protocol. Perhaps having the bamboo all to himself is beneficial to him. It will take some time, and several more weigh-ins, to see if his weigh gain trajectory alters as a result of weaning separations.

In a short time, if both do well, we will be looking to complete the weaning process for Xiao Liwu. Though some of the details have yet to be worked out, be sure that our keeper staff stands ready to provide Wu with the added social support all of our past cubs have needed once he is independent of his mother. All of our previous cubs have incurred a short period of pining for their mother after weaning was complete (generally not reciprocated by Bai Yun, they’d be sad to learn), but perhaps our bamboo boy will pine the least of all. He’s very busy, after all, getting in those leafy greens.

Watch our pandas daily on Panda Cam.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Weaning Xiao Liwu: Conflict over Calories.

93

Yun Zi to China: A Veterinarian’s View

Yun Zi will make us proud in China!

Yun Zi will make us proud in China!

When kids grow up and leave home, it’s a bittersweet day; one is glad they are doing well and starting the next stage of life while sad they are moving on. It’s the same mixture of feelings when one of our pandas goes to China to enter the breeding program. I had the honor of accompanying Yun Zi, our “teenager” panda, on his trip to China with senior keeper Jennifer Becerra.

While I am truly fond of Yun Zi, I don’t have the same intensive history with him as his keepers do.  So during the planning stages of the trip, it was easy to wear my doctor hat and stick to objective medical planning like drug dosages, contingency plans, and submitting manifests for the medical supplies. As a San Diego Zoo veterinarian, my role on the trip was to be ready in case a medical emergency should occur in transit. This could be anything from injuries like a torn nail or something extreme like a forklift accident, heat stress, hypothermia, or the panda equivalent of a panic attack. I had to think of many potential problems, consider the likelihood of it happening, and then collect the medications and supplies to cover the problem, while at the same time not bring too much equipment to cause challenges in route or while going through inspections!

I calculated and re-calculated supplies and drug dosages, but even more painstaking  (or at least painful!) was filling out the supporting documents to quantify and explain the supplies, including copies of my veterinary license, DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) license, proof of employment, TSA (Transportation Security Administration) clearance and letters from my boss, San Diego Zoo curators, and Chinese officials. Whew!

Yun Zi leaves from Shanghai on the last leg of his journey.

Yun Zi leaves from Shanghai on the last leg of his journey.

Veterinarians are medical professionals who love animals. We flip back and forth between our objective doctor side and our animal-lover side. The trip with Yun Zi was a great example of this split personality! On the first leg of our trip was the van ride up to Los Angeles; when I saw him in the crate, my first thoughts are things like: What is his demeanor? Do his respirations look calm? Is the crate secure? Does he need more water? Once all seemed in order, I could take a moment to enjoy watching him quietly eating some panda “bread” or witness the endearing interactions of Yun Zi with his keeper. Each leg of the journey was a similar series of serious questions and then quiet appreciation of Yun Zi. He was an excellent traveler. Yun Zi has a calm demeanor, and all the training and desensitizing his keepers did with him, exposing him to travel sights and sounds, really paid off! I was very happy that all my planning was not needed (and also glad that the customs inspection of the medical supplies went off without delay!).

Once at Shanghai, a Chinese veterinarian and a keeper/researcher from Wolong Panda Breeding Center received Yun Zi. It was clear they were very knowledgeable, and also it was clear how dedicated and caring they were. While it was sad to leave Yun Zi, it was comforting to know that the Wolong staff will care for him with the same dedication we did, and that Yun Zi will, hopefully, find some nice Chinese panda females and settle down to a long life in his native land.

Beth Bicknese is a senior veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo.