In Peaceful Panda Canyon


Bai Yun is back on exhibit and delighting guests.

As we enter fall at the San Diego Zoo, things start to slow down in the Panda Canyon. Bai Yun did not have a cub this year and she is enjoying her alone time.  She is back on exhibit, so everyone can visit her in person or through Panda Cam. She’s doing well and is good at reminding her keepers that she is the Queen B (as in Bear). If she doesn’t get her way, she knows how to get her keepers attention by climbing the small elm tree in her exhibit.

Gao Gao has now moved off exhibit but you may sometimes see him on Panda Cam relaxing on his shelf.  He is also enjoying his air-conditioned bedrooms and his daily back scratches from his keepers. As Gao Gao ages, we are watching him and monitoring his health more closely. An example of this is his participation of presenting his arm for blood pressure readings once a week.  We get important information, and he gets to enjoy his favorite treat of honey water during these training sessions.

Xiao Liwu continues to excel with all his training. He, too, gets his blood pressure read once a week as a comparison to Gao Gao’s readings. He has not had to learn any new behaviors lately, but he has learned to train his keepers. Mr. Wu now asks for several back scratches, just like his dad! He is now considered a subadult and has been having several highly energetic bouts playing with his enrichment toys and destroying plants. He has been testing several tree branches in his exhibit—we find them the next morning.  He has turned into a mighty little bear at 157 pounds (71 kilograms) and is almost bigger than his dad, who weighs 169 pounds (77 kilograms).

I hope all of his fans heard that Mr. Wu won the “snowball fight” (a friendly fundraising effort) against the polar bears. We are looking forward to a snow day once the weather gets cooler in San Diego. The date is tentatively set for November 14, but we will keep everyone updated if that day changes.

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Ahoy! Let’s Celebrate Xiao Liwu’s Birthday!


Celebrating 40 Years of Leadership


We’re celebrating our success using science to help save species. (Pictured: Bai Yun with Su Lin,  her third cub.)

It was overwhelming, inspiring, and at times emotional. A group of conservationists gathered at the Beckman Center Thursday, September 10 and heard from leaders in wildlife conservation, who took the podium and described their life’s work to the crowd. The theme of every talk was doing the “new,” the perceived “impossible,” to save species.

It has been 40 years since Kurt Benirschke, M.D. began the conservation science department of San Diego Zoo Global, which developed into today’s San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Today, conservation researchers met to celebrate this milestone by sharing their work and their plans for the future.

Each speaker had a story to tell of challenges, tears, and success. Mike Wallace spoke about condors, about protesters demanding that we let them “die with dignity,” about administrators fighting for the right to save this iconic bird species, and then about finally seeing condors flying free again in the wild—a recovered species that still needs human management and protection. Don Lindburg, Ph.D. spoke about the challenge of getting pandas, the skepticism of those who did not believe we could work successfully with pandas, and the joy of the first baby panda birth. And, of course, Barbara Durrant, Ph.D. and Oliver Ryder, Ph.D. reviewed the work they have done with assisted reproduction, with the Frozen Zoo®, building hope for the future without knowing for sure what we would need—and now that work is needed so much to save a species on the brink: the northern white rhino.

It was a celebration of 40 years of history, of leadership, of going down the road less traveled (and, really, a road that everyone said couldn’t be traveled) to make a difference for the future. And it was such an honor to be here.

Christina Simmons is the public relations manager for San Diego Zoo Global.


Xiao Liwu and Water

Come to Mr. Wu, bamboo!

Come to Mr. Wu, bamboo!

What is it about water and Mr. Wu? San Diego Zoo Keeper Jennifer Becerra reports that our precocious panda boy enjoys playing with tubs of ice cubs—and has even fallen asleep atop the ice in the tub. But once that ice has melted, out he comes! To encourage foraging behavior, keepers gave him the opportunity to bob for apples—but once he got his paw wet, the game was over.

Other attempts to get Xiao Liwu, who is almost two (sounds like a line from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, doesn’t it?), to forage for his food have failed. Wu does NOT like to work for his food. As Jennifer admitted, he is definitely Gao Gao’s son in that regard!

Thankfully, other forms of enrichment have been appreciated by the mini Gao Gao. You may have observed him resting on a “pillow,” a burlap coffee-bean bag filled with hay. And he has a new favorite scent: gingseng root. His blood pressure/blood draw training is progressing nicely, and he now rolls onto his side when asked—another training milestone.

Don’t tell Wu yet, but a birthday ice cake has been ordered for his big day on July 29. He should enjoy it, as long as it doesn’t melt!

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


Yun Zi to China: A Veterinarian’s View

Yun Zi will make us proud in China!

Yun Zi will make us proud in China!

When kids grow up and leave home, it’s a bittersweet day; one is glad they are doing well and starting the next stage of life while sad they are moving on. It’s the same mixture of feelings when one of our pandas goes to China to enter the breeding program. I had the honor of accompanying Yun Zi, our “teenager” panda, on his trip to China with senior keeper Jennifer Becerra.

While I am truly fond of Yun Zi, I don’t have the same intensive history with him as his keepers do.  So during the planning stages of the trip, it was easy to wear my doctor hat and stick to objective medical planning like drug dosages, contingency plans, and submitting manifests for the medical supplies. As a San Diego Zoo veterinarian, my role on the trip was to be ready in case a medical emergency should occur in transit. This could be anything from injuries like a torn nail or something extreme like a forklift accident, heat stress, hypothermia, or the panda equivalent of a panic attack. I had to think of many potential problems, consider the likelihood of it happening, and then collect the medications and supplies to cover the problem, while at the same time not bring too much equipment to cause challenges in route or while going through inspections!

I calculated and re-calculated supplies and drug dosages, but even more painstaking  (or at least painful!) was filling out the supporting documents to quantify and explain the supplies, including copies of my veterinary license, DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) license, proof of employment, TSA (Transportation Security Administration) clearance and letters from my boss, San Diego Zoo curators, and Chinese officials. Whew!

Yun Zi leaves from Shanghai on the last leg of his journey.

Yun Zi leaves from Shanghai on the last leg of his journey.

Veterinarians are medical professionals who love animals. We flip back and forth between our objective doctor side and our animal-lover side. The trip with Yun Zi was a great example of this split personality! On the first leg of our trip was the van ride up to Los Angeles; when I saw him in the crate, my first thoughts are things like: What is his demeanor? Do his respirations look calm? Is the crate secure? Does he need more water? Once all seemed in order, I could take a moment to enjoy watching him quietly eating some panda “bread” or witness the endearing interactions of Yun Zi with his keeper. Each leg of the journey was a similar series of serious questions and then quiet appreciation of Yun Zi. He was an excellent traveler. Yun Zi has a calm demeanor, and all the training and desensitizing his keepers did with him, exposing him to travel sights and sounds, really paid off! I was very happy that all my planning was not needed (and also glad that the customs inspection of the medical supplies went off without delay!).

Once at Shanghai, a Chinese veterinarian and a keeper/researcher from Wolong Panda Breeding Center received Yun Zi. It was clear they were very knowledgeable, and also it was clear how dedicated and caring they were. While it was sad to leave Yun Zi, it was comforting to know that the Wolong staff will care for him with the same dedication we did, and that Yun Zi will, hopefully, find some nice Chinese panda females and settle down to a long life in his native land.

Beth Bicknese is a senior veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo.


Yi Lu Ping An (Have a Good Trip), Yun Zi

The time has come to say goodbye to our good-natured young panda, Yun Zi. Yesterday, January 9, 2014. He embarked on his most momentous adventure yet—a move to his homeland. After crating up easily, our boy was loaded into a vehicle for the trip to Los Angeles, where he caught his flight to China. Thanks to the diligence and careful planning of our staff, he is well prepared for his journey.

The keepers worked to ready Yun Zi for all of the transitions he is about to make. He began crate training some weeks ago, getting used to the transport crate he will live in for a few days as he hops across the pond and heads up to the mountains of his ancestral homeland. As anticipated for such a smart and easy-going boy, he adapted to his new crate easily, spending time feeding inside it and accepting treats from his keepers through the openings of the crate.

Yun Zi Throughout the Years

Yun Zi Throughout the Years

Keepers have also been preparing him for the dietary transition he will undergo. In China, the pandas are not fed the low-starch, high-fiber biscuits and kibble they are used to getting in San Diego but instead receive a specially made formulation of bread that is foreign to our bears. Our keepers have access to that bread recipe and for some time have been whipping it up in our on-site kitchen so that Yun Zi could adapt to this new culinary staple. Thankfully, he had taken to the new bread, perhaps better than any of our returnees ever had.  This means dietary changes in China won’t be a big deal for our boy.

Since he is traveling in winter, staff wanted to prepare Yun Zi for the big change in temperatures he will experience. Keepers had been fattening him up a bit, and he has little rolls of flesh that will serve as extra insulation against the cooler mountain air. He looked nice and robust.

Staff has also prepared videos to leave with Yun Zi’s new Chinese handlers that detail aspects of the training he has received. This will help his new keepers to better understand the commands he has been taught, and, hopefully, will enable them to continue to use his training to facilitate future husbandry and veterinary procedures. Our video contains shots of Yun Zi sitting quietly while having his blood drawn, for example; his training allows this procedure without the use of anesthetic. This is a highly desirable, low-stress way to get biomedical data from him, and we wanted to be sure his new handlers are aware of his capabilities.

Yun Zi isn’t traveling alone on this voyage. He is attended by his primary keeper, Jen, who has been with him from birth. She had been actively engaged in his training, both during and prior to his preparation for departure to China. Yun Zi knows and trusts her, and this will be a comfort to him on his journey. In addition, a veterinarian is accompanying our boy on his flight, should there be any medical concerns to address. We anticipate that will be unlikely.

On Wednesday, the keepers began preparing his food bundles for the trip, and I know they were selecting choice bamboo culm to keep him content on the flight. Jen will ensure he receives regular munchies throughout the trip and will regularly refresh his water and clean up his crate to keep him comfortable. All of the plans and preparations are in place.

All that’s left now is to wave goodbye. 

Farewell, Yun Zi. You were a fun and exciting part of our panda research program. Even from far away, you will always be a member of our San Diego Zoo giant panda family. Yi lu ping an.

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



Insta Eye Candy

Behold our five most-liked photos on Instagram, and try not to squeeee too loudly. If you don’t already follow us, you’re missing out on an unfathomable amount of cuteness. Follow us now!

Have a knack for phone-ography? Show us what you got and take the Nighttime Zoo Instagram Challenge. All you have to do is document your Nighttime Zoo experience on Instagram and tag your photos with #NighttimeZoo to automatically enter to win a safari adventure for four at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Get posting!

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global.


Winter Smells!

Bai Yun sniffs the air as her cub dangles above her this morning.

Bai Yun sniffs the air as her cub dangles above her this morning.

As our weather here in San Diego goes through quick changes from warm to cold to wet, our animals are having quite a bit of fun with the change. For many of us, we can smell rain before if comes, or right afterward. We smell fresh rain on the dirt or grass, and it’s a reminder of how well nature clean things off every now and then.

For myself, I’ve always found it interesting to watch carnivores right after a good rain. Even the pandas will exhibit the behavior of throwing their head back into the air and taking a big whiff of what’s around them. I can sometimes smell a little change in the air, but nothing compared to animals’ sense of smell.

Shortly after a good rain, I begin to see the male pandas re-scent their enclosures, marking territory that is theirs and putting a good mark on there that will stick. So often they will begin to roll around and cover themselves with the scents that have been washed into the ground.

Just a reminder: our pandas will be out during the rain, as they are designed to live through harsh winters that include rain and snow. Our mild San Diego winters are very easy for them to live through. Come see us soon!

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Big Guy on the Block.


Panda Cam Brings Healing

Our animal cams aren’t just for fleeting entertainment. As a wildlife conservation organization, our mission is to connect people to wildlife and conservation, and our live cams are incredibly powerful tools that allow us to connect people to wildlife worldwide in real time. With the birth of our sixth panda, Xiao Liwu, Panda Cam has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. We get comments from people all over the world about Panda Cam, but one in particular touched us, and we wanted to share it with you. Enjoy.

“My sister and I began watching these bears when our little gift was born. Then I took them to the hospital where I work and began sharing. For all of my patients and our nursing staff from Sutter Cancer Center in Northern CA, I say THANK YOU to all at SDZ. Your Panda cams and blogs have made a difference in how our very ill patients cope and get through their medical processes.

I am an Integrated Therapist & Medical Aromatherapist. The first thing I do for a new patient who will be staying for awhile is show them how to log on to the Panda Cam. We have all watched our “little gift” be born and grow & now make his debut. He is a wonderful deterrent to pain, depression, loneliness and hopelessness. We all thank you so much for providing this wonderful gift for us and our patients. It speaks to the Quality of their Life as they go through treatments.

This is something that should be put in all hospital long-term care and critical-care units. In the love of this little fuzz ball, my patients need less medication for coping and sleeping. I have been known to turn off their computer as they fall asleep with Xiao Liwu sleeping quietly on the screen in their lap. [All hospitals] should consider using this in their critical care and long-term care facilities.

We all love you Bai Yun and our little healing bear, “little Wu.” Happy anniversary to Gao Gao! Forever fans, Robin Gayle & Dixie Lee.”

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global.


Starting the New Year Healthy: 20th Exam

Giant panda cub Xiao Liwu was a very busy boy during his weekly exam at the San Diego Zoo. When brought from his den, the rambunctious cub went straight to his toys, climbing headfirst into a doughnut-shaped plastic ring, playing with a ball, and frolicking in a tub while chewing bamboo. He quickly indicated, by running off and squirming from his keepers, that he wanted to play versus being weighed and measured.

The cub’s 20th exam showed the five-month-old panda is healthy and developing well. He is stronger, more agile, and continues to erupt baby teeth and is mouthing, chewing, and teething a bit. The young cub weighed in at 16 pounds (7.3 kilograms) and measured just over 30 inches (76.5 centimeters) in length from nose to tail tip.



“Xiao Liwu was very active, very strong, and very exploratory during his exam this morning,” said PK Robbins, senior veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo. “He is moving about very quickly and exhibiting great confidence in his strength and climbing abilities. At this rate, I think we will see him venturing into more areas of the giant panda habitat very soon.”
Click on chart to enlarge.

Click on chart to enlarge.

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global.

Panda Cub: Exam 15

Look at those teeth!

The cuteness continues! Being a new member of the public relations team for San Diego Zoo Global, part of my job is to write about the panda exams and try to get the media to cover this little cutie. Tough job, right? You can imagine my excitement when my co-worker asked me to accompany her to the panda exam today and help write the press materials covering it. Believe me, there was almost no pause before I said “SURE, I’ll do it!”

Once we arrived, we talked with the keepers and waited until the timing was right to take the cub from the den. Food is usually a good distraction for mother Bai Yun, and she is so consumed with her special treat of apple snacks that she doesn’t seem to miss her beloved cub for the few moments they are separated. Panda keeper Jennifer Becerra brought in the swaddled cub, who seemed extra sleepy this morning and was barely even awake for the exam! He quickly got comfortable on the blue blanket that the keepers had laid out for him, and the challenging job of taking measurements began. He weighed 12.1 pounds (5.5 kilograms) and measured 25.9 inches (66 centimeters) long.

The keepers have to work quickly these days to collect the measurements they need, since Xiao Liwu is crawling more and eager to explore the new environment. Anticipating this, the keepers had laid out a variety of distractions for the cub, ranging from a ball, a chew toy, some bamboo leaves, and a piece of apple to smell. The cub nosed at the ball and climbed through the bamboo leaves, but was mostly interested in crawling around and exploring as much as possible. After the Panda Team got the measurements they needed, they let Xiao Liwu crawl around on the carpet so they could monitor his crawling progress. The cub is gaining confidence on his paws and moving quickly, so keepers had to keep a close eye to make sure he didn’t travel too far. They were careful not to keep the cub away from his mother for too long, so once the information that they need was gathered, the growing cub was brought back to his den.

Seeing this panda in person was such a great experience, and I can really understand why the public has fallen completely in love with him. I’m so excited for all of his fans to come see him once he goes on exhibit, most likely some time in January, and for everyone to experience this “little gift” in person like I did.

Ina Saliklis is a junior public relations representative for San Diego Zoo Global.

Visit our Panda Photo Gallery for more images from today’s exam.

Click on chart to enlarge.