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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.

 

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Panda Update: Seeking Seclusion

Only time will tell if Bai Yun is indeed pregnant.

Bai Yun continues to demonstrate appropriate behavior for a pregnant (or pseudo-pregnant) female. One particular behavior, known as “seeking seclusion,” has led to a change in her access this week.

Until recently, Bai Yun was given free run of the behind-the-scenes area near her bedroom, including her sun room, garden room, tunnels and off-exhibit classroom. However, as her potential pregnancy wears on, she is more inclined to stay close to home, and doesn’t seem to like sleeping out on the climbing structure in the classroom anymore. She prefers tucked-away places, like the garden room platform or the den. As a result, we have shut the door on the classroom exhibit. It won’t open again until she demonstrates more interest in stretching her legs after the influence of her pregnancy hormones have worn off.

Seeking seclusion seems a smart move for a panda mother-to-be. Panda cubs are fragile, helpless and totally dependent upon their mothers for meeting all of their needs. The work involved in the constant care and nurturing of the panda neonate requires all of mother bear’s attention, and distractions in the area come at a cost to the mother and cub. If she is focused on external disturbances, mother bear has that much less attention to give to the activities inside her den. Tucking into a quiet, secluded space allows the female to focus on what is important: care of the cub, and her own rest and recovery.

As the days fly by, we can expect Bai Yun to continue to narrow her focus from the surrounding areas to the den. If she is indeed pregnant rather than pseudo-pregnant, we should see her spend most of the day in the den starting a few days before a birth. Currently, she is visiting the den 3-5 times each day for periods of up to 30 min at a time, but the majority of her day is spent in the garden room or bedroom.

We’ll keep you posted as to her progress.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Panda Pregnancy Watch in Full Force.