Happy 21st birthday to our panda mom, Bai Yun! It is hard to believe that 16 years ago, this beautiful, grand lady arrived at the San Diego Zoo as a curious, playful youngster, only to grow up and become one of the most popular pandas in the U.S.!
Bai is truly an ambassador for giant pandas. Since her arrival in 1996, we have learned so much from her about giant panda biology. As a result of this, she has raised worldwide public awareness on the plight of giant pandas in her home country of China.
Miss Bai has always been on the “cutting edge” of things. She has presented us with six beautiful cubs, making the San Diego Zoo the first in the U.S. and outside of China to produce the largest number of giant panda births! In addition, Bai almost broke the world record as being one of the oldest females to give birth in a managed-care facility. So many wonderful memories over the years, and yes, you guessed it, Bai is my number one panda!
For a birthday gift, Bai will be offered access to her garden room, after spending many months in her bedroom and den area. Here she can have more quiet and “personal” time away, but not too far, from her son. She can enjoy resting on her favorite platform, if she desires. We thought this was a fitting present to give our busy mom!
Happy birthday, Bai Yun, from your keepers and admirers. You are still as beautiful as ever, and we look forward to the future as we watch your new son grow!
Today, Bai Yun turns 20 years old. Can you believe it? She doesn’t look a day over 12, at least in my eyes! I still remember when she arrived here at the San Diego Zoo as a five year old back in 1996. Beautiful and busy, she was a joy to watch for all of us. And she still is!
We couldn’t let her special day go by without doing something special for an animal that has represented her species so well. Bai Yun has seen her share of elaborate panda birthday celebrations. Yet her long-time keeper, Kathy Hawk, describes Bai Yun as a laid-back, down-to-earth mama these days. So in keeping with a low-key theme, Kathy has been preparing a “homemade” ice cake. It will feature layers of Bai’s favorite apple, carrot, and honey slush, with food-colored ice cubes on top.
Kathy and crew will set the cake out in the north exhibit during Bai Yun’s noon feeding time today. Please come by to wish our birthday girl many happy returns!
Meghan, left, and Debbie pose with their tasty and beautiful creation.
Preparing a birthday ice cake for a giant panda is always a fun challenge for the San Diego Zoo’s Forage Warehouse staff. We wanted to do something different from past years’ cakes. Some of the main factors we have to contend with are time, materials, and the overall weight of the cake. I was very excited when my lead, Debbie Lowe, presented me with the opportunity to help with this year’s panda ice cake. Coming from the Nutritional Services Department at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, our ability to make big, beautiful ice cakes at the Park is unfortunately limited by our freezer space, so this was going to be a real treat for me and the panda!
Let's hear it for the Forage Warehouse team!
Coming up with a way to make each cake different from the rest is definitely a challenge, but Yun Zi’s 2nd birthday cake had some unique qualities. We made it a three-tier cake, because we know how much the pandas love to climb all over them. This cake actually ended up being much larger than we had planned, and Yun Zi seemed to enjoy it! Something that is different about this cake is that we made it as a challenging enrichment item for the panda. The bottom layer of the cake was made into a bowl shape to hold various food items. Instead of the traditional three bamboo sticks holding up the middle layer, we enclosed the whole bottom of the cake, making a “cage” effect. Our hope was that Yun Zi would have to work for those treats and have a lot of fun doing it!
The cake is carefully delivered to the Giant Panda Research Station.
It was difficult trying to find a way to create the bowl shape in the bottom layer. We had to figure out how to freeze an object in the ice to make the bowl but still be able to retrieve the object after enclosing the cake with bamboo, so we came up with the idea of using a beach ball. It worked perfectly! We inflated it and placed it in the bottom layer to freeze, and then once the bamboo sticks were frozen in place, we simply deflated it to slide it out.
The middle layer of the cake was much larger than previous cakes. This allowed us to put Yun Zi’s name on the cake in large letters, which we cut out of slices of yams. And last but not least, the top layer held the traditional number representing the panda’s age. The entire cake was finished off with decorative, colorful star and circle shapes made from water and food coloring, bamboo “bows” made from individual leaves folded over in a circle shape, and bamboo leaves frozen around the perimeter of the cake to leave an outline of a bamboo leaf.
Overall the cake was a success, and I hope Yun Zi had as much fun eating it as I did making it! Thank you to the Zoo Forage Warehouse for allowing me to be part of this process. I hope to take some of the things I learned back to the Safari Park. And most importantly…HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YUN ZI!!!
Meghan Kramer is a nutritional service assistant at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, currently working in a loan position at the San Diego Zoo’s Forage Warehouse.
Today, September 7, our giant panda matriarch Bai Yun is 18 years old! It’s hard to believe that in September 1996, this beautiful youngster made her debut in San Diego. Between her and adult male Shi Shi, they literally won the hearts of people all over the world! Born in China in 1991 at the Wolong Giant Panda Center, she was Wolong’s first captive-born panda! Her name in Chinese means “white cloud.”
Bai Yun with her firstborn, Hua Mei.
Over the past 13 years, Bai has contributed greatly to the San Diego Zoo’s giant panda research program. We have learned many aspects of panda husbandry, including how to monitor panda estrus cycles, in-depth looks at the development of a giant panda fetus through ultrasound, and experiencing the birth of her first cub, Hua Mei. Everything we have asked of her she has given us because of the strong trusting bond she has with her keepers. She is truly a remarkable panda!
Bai Yun on her first day in her new exhibit, 1996.
I have watched this girl grow up since 1996, and even now, as she turns 18, she still is beautiful, and there are moments when her “young, prankish” side comes out! I remember in the early days sitting down in the panda yards on my breaks and hanging out with her. Bai was always good for a conversation or two! Then afterward, she would make me laugh with her playful antics, rolling around, doing somersaults, and then looking over at me just to make sure I was paying attention!
So today we celebrate her birthday. We can’t give her an ice birthday cake, as she is busy being Mom to her cub #5. So, happy birthday, Bai Yun! Thank you for all you have given us. You have become a very important ambassador for your species, raising awareness of giant pandas and adding hope for panda conservation in China. We honor you on your special day!
Kathy Hawk is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.