The ever-popular Yun Zi made his fourth birthday wish this morning after knocking down the number atop his birthday cake, which is this panda’s annual ritual in lieu of blowing out candles. While the partygoers waited anxiously to welcome him, little did the birthday boy know that upon entering his exhibit he would be greeted with a panda party. His enclosure was decorated with gift boxes full of Bermuda grass and biscuits, a cardboard panda and turtle, a 150-pound cake, and, of course, his attentive fan club, decked out in panda hats and Yun Zi T-shirts.
After getting a little taste of his cake, he made sure to have his bamboo breakfast first and then a bit more of the treat for dessert. Yun Zi’s cake was a four-tiered work of art made of ice, filled with apples and carrots, drizzled with honey, and decorated with yam frosting and bamboo.
But while he was a good boy and had his breakfast before fully indulging in dessert, he sure lived up to his reputation as a busy boy and destructive re-decorator, knocking over his cake and ripping open his gifts like a toddler on Christmas morning.
Unlike his baby brother, who celebrated his first birthday last week, it seemed that climbing the cake was beneath this poised panda, as he placed one paw on the cake for posterity while leaning it closer to his snout so he could get a better angle on the treat, eventually toppling the whole thing over. Yun Zi was also very particular about the parts of the cake he wanted to enjoy first; he went for the red apple-flavored pieces first, as this is his favorite fruit.
Always a performer, the 4-year-old panda got the most laughs from the crowd when he climbed, head first, inside his cardboard panda gift box and then ripped it open, as if revealing himself to his adoring fans. That, however, was not the only laugh he got out of his fan club, which included a young boy who had been studying Mandarin Chinese and was so proud to be able to say “hello” to the cub in his native language; “Ni hao, Yun Zi” said the little guy, barely able to pronounce the “o” in “hao” because of the huge smile on his face.
While the smiles, laughs and “ooh” and “aahs” made the joy of this celebration palpable, I think all of the panda fans’ thoughts and feelings can best be expressed by the words of a gentleman I overhead while watching Yun Zi this morning: he walked over to the glass, took one look at the birthday boy, and simply said “What a guy.”
Cielo Villasenor is a public relations representative for San Diego Zoo Global.