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panda party

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Panda Party for Mr. Wu

Just wait until Mr. Wu sees his birthday ice cake!

Just wait until Mr. Wu sees his birthday ice cake!

Xiao Liwu’s birthday party is just around the corner—July 29! The time does fly by fast as this little panda guy is turning 2! Come join us to celebrate his birthday starting at 9 a.m. in the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Trek! If you cannot join us in person, make sure you tune in to the Panda Cam at about 8:50 a.m., when “Mr. Wu” is scheduled to come out on exhibit. Our Forage Department has been putting their creative caps on and working hard for a couple of weeks to make another masterpiece cake (and they get better and better every year, don’t they?). I have only seen a sneak peek of this one, and it has a Day at the Beach theme. All Wu fans are invited—make sure you wear your sunscreen, best beach hat, and flip flops for this big event! We will see what Mr. Wu thinks of water after this day!

Xiao Liwu now weighs 88 pounds (40 kilograms). And what would Mr. Wu want for his birthday? A $14 donation to the Zoo’s Animal Care Wish List goes toward our enrichment program, which funds items such as new hammocks, perfumes (his favorite scents are ginseng root, wintergreen, and cinnamon), materials to make a slide, and some edible goodies, which can enrich the lives for so many of our animals. You can also Adopt a Panda, which helps fund the Zoo’s enrichment program, and perhaps take home your own panda plush to call Mr. Wu.

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, “Go Potty,” Xiao Liwu.

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Poised Panda Gets a Party

Yun Zi's birthday cake didn't stay this way for long!

Yun Zi’s birthday cake didn’t stay this way for long!

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.

Yun Zi over the years

Yun Zi over the years

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.

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Panda Party: Wu Hoo!

Giant Panda Climbs Cake During First Birthday at San Diego ZooToday we celebrated Xiao Liwu’s first birthday, with the help of a delicious 200-pound ice cake, colorful gifts, and adoring panda fans.

The cake was beautiful to look at as well as tasty for the birthday boy and his mother, Bai Yun. It was tinged orange with a “frosting” of mashed carrots and sweet potatoes and had the words “Mr. Wu” on the base and the large “1” on the top. There were several cardboard boxes on the ground, some painted to look like presents, one in the shape of a gorilla, and one as a giraffe, all filled with hay and biscuits. Several small pink boxes decorated with little pandas were hanging from the tree like piñatas and filled with goodies, too.

There was some concern that the cub would stay up in the tree for the festivities, but he was down when keepers came in this morning and so joined his mother in the bedroom while the exhibit was decorated. When all the goodies were in place, the door was opened to release the pair, and we all held our collective breath, cameras at the ready. It took a few minutes before Bai Yun came out and promptly ripped open the first present she came to before plopping down at the edge of the pool, with her nose seeming to touch the surface. Xiao Liwu hung back at first, but as his mother rested, he came around the front and spied the “gorilla,” which gave him a start! But he recovered and meandered up to the cake, sat right in front of it, and started to explore it gingerly with his mouth and nose. Soon, Bai Yun joined him there, and they seemed to share it quite well.

Keepers were not surprised at his mellow reaction to the cake, and I’m sure everyone there got great photos of our now 42-pound panda boy. He even climbed into the tree to grab at the little piñatas, making for more photo opportunities. I noticed even Yun Zi was interested, climbing high in his artificial tree to better see what all the fuss was about next door. His turn for an ice cake will come next week, August 5, when he turns four.

Happy birthday, Mr. Wu!


Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global.

Celebrate Xiao Liwu’s first birthday with a limited-edition adoption package! This “little gift” for your loved one includes an exclusive Xiao Liwu certificate of adoption.

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Panda Party Invitation

Help us celebrate Yun Zi's 2nd birthday!

Yun Zi’s second birthday is on Friday, August 5, 2011. The birthday bear and his keepers would like to share this special day with all of his adoring fans, friends, and family. This not-so-little bear (126 pounds or 57.4 kilograms) is getting excited about his big day. But one day is not enough for our boy, so we are going to be spoiling this panda during an entire week!

We will give Yun Zi several birthday presents that he can tear open and enjoy, so look for lots of “gift boxes” and special enrichment items Monday through Friday, starting on Monday, August 1. On August 5, around 9:15 a.m. (please note time change), our Forage Department will present Yun Zi with one of their unique and famous ice cakes.

What do you think this bear would wish for on his birthday when he breaks off his Number 2? Yun Zi is hoping you can come and celebrate his second birthday with him! If you cannot be here in person, you can celebrate Yun Zi’s birthday in your own home courtesy of our Panda Cam. So “RSVP” in our comment section. We hope to see you August 1 to 5!

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Yun Zi’s Spring Break.

Please note: The presentation of Yun Zi’s birthday ice cake has been changed to Friday, August 5, at around 9:15 a.m.

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A Memorable Un-Birthday

Today, as promised, we celebrated all things Gao Gao. As an orphan, he has no set birthday, and it was time to showcase the boy who made the last three cubs possible. He debuted here in January 2003, so a commemorative event was long overdue.

And what a celebration it was! Our incredibly talented Forage Warehouse team out-did themselves, constructing a two-tiered, multi-layered creation. The bottom tier consisted of yams, carrots, and bamboo leaves suspended in ice, topped and glazed with another ice layer, colored and flavored with orange gelatin (sugar-free, of course). The smaller top tier was similarly constructed: ice and bamboo on the bottom and the gelatin layer on top, this time a lemon flavor. Surrounding the cake were bamboo culm “treat cups” holding applesauce and baby food, and culm “candleholders” containing yam “candles”. Topping the entire creation was an ice and bamboo-leaf star, glazed in lemon gelatin: so appropriate for the star of the day! To add to the festive air, floating ice cubes and stars were added to his pool, and the keepers decorated four treat boxes and placed them around the exhibit.

But the ultimate touch was the drizzle of honey all over the ice-cake masterpiece. The area was prepared, the cameras and guests were ready, and Gao was released, making only a slight detour before zeroing in on the honey-laced cake. In short order he had honey on his forepaws and his muzzle, orange glaze dripping off his chin, and his tongue working at record speed to catch every tasty drop! He “bearly” moved from the same spot for the next hour, then paused for a drink and proceeded to sit contentedly, facing his adoring fans and eating bamboo for the next two hours before retuning to his cake. A visitor even thoughtfully brought a gift to the keepers: a jar of 1,000 carefully folded origami cranes for him to wish on!

It was fun for all and a joy to see how beloved is our “Big Big.” There will be lots happening and changing quickly over the next several weeks, as we begin facilitating the natural separation of Bai Yun and Zhen Zhen. Gao Gao will be in our back area, but we’ll all be waiting for the possibility of another estrus and, hopefully, another mating season. We’ll try to keep everyone up to date, but keep a sharp eye on Panda Cam: you just never know whom you’ll be seeing.

Ellie Rosenbaum is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo.