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Bai Yun pregnant

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Panda Cub #6!

Bai Yun with her sixth cub, born on July 29, 2012!

The Panda Team assembled one by one in the video room at the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station this morning as Bai Yun’s labor began and continued throughout the day. Researchers, veterinarians, and keepers all gathered together and watched Bai Yun’s every move. All of us were anticipating that first tell-tale “SQUAWK” from the cub and then, at 2:10 this afternoon, Bai Yun’s 6th cub was born! Many of us on the Panda Team have been here for all of Bai Yun’s births, but somehow, this one left us all as elated as we felt when Hua Mei was born back in 1999. After the cub was born, Bai Yun scooped it into her warm arms and quickly found a comfortable position for both her and the cub. We are still watching her, and we can’t stop smiling. Congratulations to Bai Yun!

Megan Owen is the Conservation Program Manager at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation.

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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.

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Pandas: Getting Closer

Bai Yun continues to progress toward her birthing window in a predictable fashion. Part of this progress means she is “denning up” in preparation for the birth. Over time, she is spending more and more time in the den resting, eating, and nest building inside. In the last 24 hours, she spent 680 minutes (over 11 hours) in that den, but soon enough it will be 1,440 minutes (a full day!).

For now, when she is not in the den, she can typically be found sleeping just outside the den entrance. She no longer makes trips out to the large outdoor space she had available, so the keepers have closed off that area. She has even stopped visiting the garden room and resting atop the platform there. From this point forward, it’s den, bedroom, and sun room…but increasingly just den.

We can’t tell you exactly when Bai Yun will give birth. We can say that all signs point to early August. Our various signs and indicators do have some predictive value for us: How far out did she reduce her bamboo intake? When did she begin spending time in the den? What do the fetal measurements tell us about how developed the cub is? I can tell you that all of these factors are aligning nicely with regard to a predicted birth date, all pointing to windows within a few days of each other. There is enough variability, however, that we won’t be brash enough to predict for you exactly when the cub will be born. You could say we are watching her overnight…

Cub, not cubs. Did I mean to type that? We have good evidence that one cub (gestating in the right uterine horn) is developing beautifully. You may have seen it on the ultrasound pictures, curling its head and moving its paws. The vets have been able to see mineralization of the bones and tiny claws. This cub looks strong and healthy so far. What about its twin?

Last week we saw a heartbeat from the cub in the left uterine horn. It looked smaller and less developed than its sibling. Since that heartbeat sighting, we haven’t had a chance to see Left Cub. We have not seen its heartbeat stop or its placenta degrade as Mei Sheng’s uterine roommate did in 2003. But staff is becoming increasingly suspicious that Left Cub will not survive the pregnancy.

If this makes you unhappy, you’ll have to take it up with Bai Yun. This is her call. But you’ll have to wait for some time, because it looks like she’s going to be busy for the next few months!

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.