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.


11 Bellies You Really Need To Rub

Disclaimer: These are wild animals, and must be treated as such. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. :)

You know you really want to rub this little spotted belly…

Photo by Cheryl Thiele

Photo by Cheryl Thiele

and this meer belly…

Photo by Helene Hoffman

Photo by Helene Hoffman

and this Andean bear belly…

Photo by Craig Chaddock

Photo by Craig Chaddock

and this polar pot belly…

and this panda paunch.

Aisha’s little red tummy is just asking for a good rub.

Photo by Paul E.M.

Photo by Paul E.M.

Jaguar cub Maderas (born at the Zoo in 2012) had perhaps the most rub-able belly of all.

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde

But Nindiri’s latest cub definitely gives Maderas a run for her money in the belly department.

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde

When Mr. Wu was a cub had the cutest panda pot belly ever.

And he still does.

Photo by Paul E.M.

Photo by Paul E.M.

Joanne’s fuzzy little tummy is just screaming “rub me!”

Just look at it.

Photo by Angie Bell

Photo by Angie Bell

Lion cubs Ken & Dixie were not lacking in the cute belly department.


Izu seems to disagree.

But seriously, Mr. Wu just might be the winner of cutest belly ever.

Case in point.

Actually, maybe it’s a tie.

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde

Yep, definitely a tie.

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde


Matt Steele is senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, 7 Animals That Look Like Star Wars Characters.


Good Weather, Good Food

Gao Gao has been in fine form lately, climbing trees and scent marking.

Gao Gao has been in fine form lately, climbing trees and generally giving keepers quite a show!

Lately, as I have been narrating down at the panda enclosure, I’m seeing the bears relax, sit back, and enjoy the food. As many of you know, we feed several different types of bamboo to our bears, and in recent days they have really been enjoying themselves! Bai Yun will often eat for a few hours at a time, and even Mr Xiao Liwu has been doing very well ripping the bamboo apart. And it seems while they’ve been relaxing, panda fans have been thinking; we have been getting a lot of questions about breeding the bears this year.

As of last week we have not seen any change in Bai Yun hormone reading or physical state. However, on a fairly regular basis we have observed her scent marking repeatedly around the enclosure, and even engaging in “water play”, a behavior we typically see when there is a hormone shift. As it is still early for her regular breeding season, we expect to continue watching her closely over the next couple of months and will monitor any progression towards an estrus. She is extremely healthy; one of the benefits about being captive born is a fantastic health package!

Gao Gao has been eating extremely well in his off-exhibit digs, and has been climbing up and down the trees giving our keepers quite a show in the back area. Engaging in handstand scent markings is always fun to see, and having him this active is a nice change of pace.

Now, please remember: even though he is quite vigorous right now and showing a lot of enthusiasm, we cannot put him in with Bai Yun unless we have positive evidence showing her in estrus. Our vet staff will ultimately have the final word on breeding the bears, and rest assured they always keep the animals’ best interests in mind and at heart.

Little Mr. Wu has also been showing lots of energy and spunk. On a daily basis we see him run around the enclosure, playing with enrichment that keepers have put out for him. Our guests have enjoyed watching him and his moves, and it has been great to show our guests what these bears are capable of. Over the next few months we may see more activity and more growth spurts!

Come see us soon!


Are You Over Valentine’s Day? This Might Look Familiar.

Valentine’s Day just isn’t your thing. Honestly? Because you’re just not that into it.

Photo by Ion Moe

Photo by Ion Moe

And you’re not really a fan of “getting all cleaned up” for that big date.

Photo by Ion Moe

Photo by Ion Moe

You’re also not big on PDA, like holding hands (or tails).

And you’re definitely not a hugger.


And if you see one more candy heart with a generic love message on it you’re going to lose it!


And chocolates? Meh. They kind of make you gag.

Photo by Sayuri

Photo by Sayuri

When you get the bill after a super fancy dinner you can barely hide your shock.

Photo by Penny Hyde

Photo by Penny Hyde

Because you’re easy to please. You don’t need some fancy meal. You’re fine eating what you always do.

Photo by Mollie Rivera

Photo by Mollie Rivera

And honestly, you’re not a big fan of crowds anyway.


You’d just rather stay in and relax.

Photo by Helene Hoffman

Photo by Helene Hoffman

And hang out with your boo, just the two of you, just how you like it. Because that’s what Valentine’s Day should be. No stress, no obligation, just love.

Photo by Darrell Ybarrondo

Photo by Darrell Ybarrondo

Matt Steele is senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Animals Who Totally Own Winter.




Happy Anniversary, Gao Gao!

Celebrating a dozen delightful years with Gao Gao!

January 15, 2015 marks a dozen delightful years with Gao Gao at the Zoo!

Gao Gao’s 12th anniversary (he arrived in San Diego Jan. 15, 2003) is coming up at the San Diego Zoo and what a glorious time it has been. He has been the perfect mate for Bai Yun and has fathered five cubs (Mei Sheng, Su Lin, Zhen Zhen, Yun Zi, and Xiao Liwu). He may be small but he has a huge personality and presence among his keepers. As he always enjoys and demands his daily scratches from us.

This Thursday, Gao Gao will have a quiet anniversary celebration in the Classroom Exhibit with some special enrichment throughout the day that will include his favorite scents: cinnamon spice, ginseng root perfume, and rubbing alcohol!. He does not get an ice cake anymore due to his old teeth, but he will get extra apples and honey, and my favorite part of the day—extra scratches from his keepers.

Lately, Gao Gao has preferred the quiet life of living in the classroom exhibits with access to his bedroom whenever he desires. His exhibit is not open to the public and only gets visits by early morning tours and special behind the scenes events. You can see him on Panda Cam Daily from 6:30a.m. until 2:30p.m. PST.

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Party for Mr. Wu.


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.