Giant Panda Research Station at the San Diego Zoo


Giant Panda Undergoes Artificial Insemination Procedure at the San Diego Zoo

Bai Yun has given birth and raised six cubs at the San Diego Zoo's Giant Panda Research Station.

Bai Yun has raised six cubs at the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Panda Research Station.

Veterinarians, reproductive physiologists, and animal care staff filled an exam room at the San Diego Zoo’s animal hospital this morning. Everyone with a role to fulfill gathered for the artificial insemination procedure of Bai Yun, a 23-year-old giant panda.

Following two 30-minute natural breeding sessions on Tuesday that didn’t appear to animal care staff to be successful, as well as hormone testing that showed that Bai Yun had already ovulated, the animal care team knew they had a very short window of time to take advantage of her estrous cycle.

It was decided that sperm from the Frozen Zoo® would be thawed and used for an artificial insemination procedure on Wednesday morning. The sperm used is from giant panda, Shi Shi, who was the first breeding partner for Bai Yun. His sperm was used during an artificial insemination procedure with Bai Yun in 1999. That procedure produced the first cub born at the San Diego Zoo, a female named Hua Mei. In 2003 Shi Shi returned to China for his retirement years, and he died in 2008.

Scientists at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research will run daily tests on Bai Yun’s urine following today’s artificial insemination and expect to know within a month if the panda has conceived. It could take up to three months to determine if a fertilized egg had implanted—thermal imaging will be used to determine implantation.

A panda’s fertilized egg remains suspended until a trigger in the environment indicates it is time to implant. The trigger is still not fully understood by scientists. Giant pandas routinely delay the implantation of the fetus as long as four months. After implantation, the fertilized egg begins to develop. Impending birth is predicted on the basis of behavioral, hormonal and anatomical changes documented by the Zoo’s scientists and researchers.

Female giant pandas only experience estrus once a year and it only lasts for 48 to 72 hours. The San Diego Zoo has a record of success with six cubs being born in San Diego since 1999. Giant pandas are considered to be endangered in the wild.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.



Adult Giant Pandas at San Diego Zoo Have First Breeding Encounter of the Season

Bai Yun and Gao Gao are a successful mating pair—they have five offspring together.

Bai Yun and Gao Gao are a successful breeding pair. They have produced five offspring together.

This morning, giant pandas Bai Yun and Gao Gao were given physical access to each other for their first breeding attempt since 2012. Researchers at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research have been monitoring the hormone levels of Bai Yun, waiting for her to show signs of estrus. Animal care staff at the San Diego Zoo watch for physical cues, like scent marking, and listening to the vocalizations of both bears.

The main panda viewing area at the Zoo was closed this morning and the online Panda Cam turned off while staff observes the bears for breeding behavior.

After seeing all the cues indicating that both bears are interested in breeding and getting test results of Bai Yun’s hormone levels, keepers opened the doors between the main viewing exhibits, allowing the bears to have contact with each other. Keepers are hopeful that the pandas will continue to show signs of interest in each other, which will prompt additional time together for breeding.

Female giant pandas only experience their estrus once a year and it only last for 48 to 72 hours. Staff will not know if this breeding season will yield a cub until a possible birth would be imminent, in approximately July 2015. The San Diego Zoo has a record of success with six cubs being born in San Diego since 1999.  Giant pandas are considered to be critically endangered in the wild.

Photo taken on March 10, 2015, by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo.



Panda Cub: Mom Knows Best

Mom knows best?!

Since I work in different areas around Sun Bear Forest and the Giant Panda Research Station at the San Diego Zoo, several days can go by before I see Bai Yun and her cub, during which a lot can change. It has been such a privilege to be able to see what a great mother bear she is and how handling her cub can sometimes be so gentle at times and other times look a bit rough. No matter how she is handling him, we all know that she has proven herself five times before that she knows what she is doing.

I know that there isn’t sound on Panda Cam, so unless you are near the den, you wouldn’t know that the times she is being gentle with him he is often just “going with it,” being quiet and letting Mom do what she needs to do to keep him clean and healthy. That being said, sometimes I don’t have to even be near the den to know that she is dealing with a cub throwing a tantrum! At those times, for whatever reason, he doesn’t want Mom to clean him, and he isn’t shy about letting the world know. But again, Mom knows best, and she has to make sure that he continues to be healthy, so she has to keep him clean. He will wiggle about in protest, and now that he is getting stronger, he can really wiggle! Throughout his tantrum, Bai Yun is diligent in her mission to keep her cub clean and healthy, and usually by the end he is worn out and ready for a nap.

Speaking of naps, he does do a lot of napping, but as of late we have seen him practicing his crawling and walking outside the den more often. Of course, after a big practice session, whether his mom is right next to him or resting nearby, he will have to take a nice long nap to recover. Before too long, he should be strong and big enough to go on more adventures outside of the den and even outside of the bedroom. Bai Yun has access to the den, a bedroom, a sunroom, and a garden room, all of which she could carry the cub to at anytime or maybe help him with a nudge or a boost here and there.

This is certainly an exciting time as the cub becomes more independent with each passing day. Although regardless of how independent he is, Mom will still be there to remind him she knows best!

Jennifer Chapman is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Exam 12: Confident and Curious.


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.


Our Growing Young Panda

When you see certain animals every day, it becomes difficult to notice how big they are getting or how much weight they are gaining. Well, after being gone for a month and returning to the Giant Panda Research Station at the San Diego Zoo, I can honestly tell you that Yun Zi, at 55.8 pounds (25.4 kilograms), is growing!

On my first day back, I also noticed that our beloved keepers are beginning the process of training him to go inside his bedroom without going in with him. At first I was surprised that they were starting this training so early, but after seeing one of the keepers stand next to Yun Zi, I understood. He is getting a little taller, and all that extra fat that he used to have and that we lovingly joked about has disappeared. Instead, a very muscular, strong little bear has appeared and is taking the crowd by storm.

Something even more interesting is to watch his activity level; he used to sleep a lot, but he now runs more and chases after Mom! When doing keeper work, we don’t often get the opportunity of being able to watch our cub for hours; it’s closer for us to check him on the monitors in the back. But working as a panda narrator once again has allowed me to watch more of his antics and play sessions with Mom, something I have to admit I’ve missed in the last month!

Yun Zi has also begun a slight weaning process with Bai Yun; or rather, she has started it. Several times now I’ve seen Yun Zi approach her to nurse; he goes right for that belly. But Bai Yun quickly pushes him to the side and almost redirects his attention. We are seeing more teeth coming in, and he has been chewing on the thicker bamboo, but he still is really only eating the young, thin bamboo.

Come see him soon—he’s getting bigger every day!

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Mini Horse Memories.


Perfect Panda Photos

Picture-perfect Yun Zi!

As you walk into the Giant Panda Research Station at the San Diego Zoo, the first bear you see is Su Lin. She’s been going through some definite hormone changes recently, and our research team is monitoring her. With these changes comes a restlessness that makes it rather difficult for our guests to get a photograph of our girl! Currently, we are seeing her sleep a good part of the day, sitting in water and playing, and walking a good bit! These are all behaviors that we have seen previously with Bai Yun, so she’s really not surprising us, except with how early she started her estrus this year!

Bai Yun and Yun Zi are in the next exhibit and are both doing very well. Yun Zi is really exploring his trees in the exhibit, and often you can’t really see him clearly in the trees while he’s sleeping. Bai Yun has been pretty good about eating where our guests can see her; she even gives guests a view of her nursing the cub. We can never tell when the little guy will wake up, or what he’ll do when awake, so having a rare peek at panda motherhood is always a real treat.

Gao Gao is still off exhibit and has been doing very well. Right now he will remain there so Su Lin can stay in the front, close to our soundproof area for the hearing study (see post Panda Care).

Zhen Zhen is in the off-exhibit classroom area and has really adjusted well. She and Gao Gao sometimes communicate with each other, and Zhen Zhen is constantly in the trees trying to see the bear she’s “talking” to. Remember: the two will never have direct access to each other, as they are father and daughter. Even though Zhen Zhen isn’t reproductively mature, we wouldn’t want to breed Gao with his daughter, and we don’t know if there would be any unfriendly behavior on his part.

If you cant visit the San Diego Zoo for your perfect photo opp, do keep an eye on the Panda Cam, as we focus on Zhen Zhen and Gao Gao from time to time!

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.