Yun Zi


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.



The Scoop on Panda Poop

Yun Zi munches his bamboo like a pro!

Yun Zi munches his bamboo like a pro!

I spoke with panda narrator Alyssa Medeiros to get the latest on our bamboo bears. Alyssa has been helping the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Team as a panda keeper these days and promises to write a blog about that experience when she can. In the meantime, she shared some fun stuff about our two youngest bears.

Yun Zi is a typical “teenaged mess maker,” according to Alyssa. This four year old panda continues to rip and shred anything he can get his paws on. Yet his most challenging mess for keepers to clean is his location of choice for bathroom duties. Yun Zi has decided that the top of the artificial den is the perfect spot. Why does this make extra work for his caretakers? The poop goes into the den’s nooks and crannies, making it more difficult to clean. Apparently, he cares not!

Xiao Liwu, nicknamed Mr. Wu, is now leaving “treasures” behind. Previously, his mother, Bai Yun, would clean up any waste her cub left behind, presumably so predators would not be alerted to his presence. But now that he is larger and starting to ingest, rather than just mouth, bamboo leaves, he is producing “little gifts.” Apparently, Bai Yun is willing to let keepers dispose of them these days. Talk about room service! Alyssa says that Mr. Wu is also chewing on sticks and attempting to peel the larger bamboo culms—an advanced skill for a panda boy of just 14 months. He has not attempted to chew those culms yet but often mouths some of Bai Yun’s shredded leftovers.

Xiao Liwu’s training sessions continue, and Alyssa is quite proud of his progress. He has learned to touch his nose to a pool buoy on a stick (it looks like a very large Q-tip!) and to a dot on the wall for a honey water reward. And he is getting better at shifting off the exhibit and into his bedroom when asked.

Thank you for the update, Alyssa!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Our Panda Family.


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.


Comparing Panda Brothers

Bai Yun seems to be keeping an eye on her cub in this Panda Cam screen shot.

Bai Yun seems to be keeping an eye on her cub in this Panda Cam screen shot.

Xiao Liwu is a very different cub from his older brother, Yun Zi, but in a good way. He is very smart and is the youngest cub to respond so well to us keepers. Yun Zi did not start shift training (learning to move on and off exhibit when requested) until he was a little older than Mr. Wu is now (9 months old).

The important thing to have with the training and shifting is a reward (usually food) motivation. Yun Zi enjoyed honey water, and he was really good at following Bai Yun when she went into the bedroom, and after he arrived in the bedroom, he would come to us for his reward for coming inside.

Mr. Wu has plenty of motivation with play to follow us to the shift door, but he has learned that the play ends at the door. And sometimes he seems to just want to be carried to the shift door, so we keepers can do all the work! When he starts eating diet items regularly, he will start being motivated to come inside when asked. Xiao Liwu now weighs 31.7 pounds (14.4 kilograms).

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.


Yun Zi and Hammock Update

Here's another view of the new artificial tree.

Here’s another view of the new artificial tree.

It’s been great to see giant panda Yun Zi’s exhibit go through so many changes in such a short time, and we are not done yet! He will get a hammock. His old one is badly torn up—they don’t last forever with all the use they get. Our Exhibits Team is on the job making a new one, but we have to be patient. They are extremely busy with projects all around the San Diego Zoo. Also, as keepers, we need to find the perfect place to hang the hammock so he will both use it and remain visible for visitors.

It’s been an experience to see Yun Zi sleep at the top of his 15-foot tree—now he can see his mom and baby brother. He is also enjoying the new location of his “lounge chair,” and the guests can now see him up close. Tomorrow, our Horticulture Team is going to help us add new plants and sod to both exhibits. Yun Zi is also continuing his blood-draw training, so we will be able to get a blood sample without using anesthesia. He is excelling with all his training.

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.


Yun Zi: Busy Panda Boy

Yun Zi ponders his next move.

Yun Zi was definitely a busy boy on Saturday, May 19! The keepers gave him plenty of enrichment to keep him occupied. He received a tub full of ice, two hard-plastic Boomer balls filled with carrots, yams, apples, and herbivore biscuits, and a burlap sack filled with hay.

As soon as the bedroom door opened, our young panda ran to the tub and began to go through the ice, rubbing the cubes all over his head. He then tipped the tub over, spreading the ice everywhere, and tumbled down the hill, bringing the tub with him. Our guests were enthralled and were laughing and snapping as many photos as they could! Yun Zi even chased his Boomer ball around the exhibit, almost like a kid chasing a soccer ball.

After a lot of playing and running around for almost two hours, he FINALLY took a nap. What a day in the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Trek!

Alyssa Medeiros is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Gao Gao and the Tub.


Hello, Handsome Yun Zi!

Welcome back to the spotlight, Yun Zi!

It has been a couple of months, but I’m happy to report that giant panda Yun Zi is now on exhibit for guests to view. Sunday, May 13, was his first day back, and he was putting on quite a show for our lucky guests in the morning. A perfect Mother’s Day treat for our visiting mothers!

Since father Gao Gao was in that exhibit previously, Yun Zi spent the morning scent marking the entire exhibit. He also was running around and rolling around to show off and have fun. When the front viewing area was redone a couple of years ago, our keepers tried to keep panda youngsters in mind when they requested more climbing structures. Yun Zi is the perfect example of why that is so important for a young, growing panda. He was climbing, scent marking the tree and going all the way to the top to smell the air. It was really an amazing morning for our youngster!

Those who had not seen him in a while were shocked at how big Mr. Yun Zi has gotten. Currently, his weight is about 180 pounds, and he is looking like he is going to be rather tall as well. Since he is 2½ years old, he could potentially continue growing for a couple more years. But just like his parents, his weight can fluctuate with weather changes and different life changes (hormones). Many of our guests told me about being at the San Diego Zoo two years ago and seeing a little baby; they wondered what had happened to him. Just about all of them were astounded when I’d point to Yun Zi and say, “Here he is!”

If you get the chance, please come and visit him, and take a peak on the Panda Cam. As for mother Bai Yun, she has been moved into the north exhibit, which is currently closed to our guests, so that when we begin doing our thermal imaging on a regular basis she is easily accessible. Our first thermal imaging procedure has already taken place; Bai Yun cooperated beautifully, and we have nothing to report. Please remember that it can take a while for our researchers and vet staff to see anything that would indicate a pregnancy. Paws crossed!

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Narrator at Safari Park.


Yun Zi Training

Yun Zi: What a quick learner!

I still cannot believe how big panda youngster Yun Zi is whenever I see him. He is by far one of our fastest growing cubs! He impresses me every day with how smart he is. And he teaches me patience when he would rather play than train.

The bears receive data points when they can hear a tone during a hearing study session. On April 19, Yun Zi correctly stationed when he needed to and touched his nose to the red circle when he heard a tone played, receiving his first data sound point during the hearing study. This may seem like a small feat, but he has been training for over a year for this study! I am very proud that he is coming along nicely with the training, and it will be even more exciting when we have a full range of data on him.

Never fret, Yun Zi fans, he will be on exhibit soon and back to redecorating. We don’t have a set date yet, as that depends on Bai Yun and when she wants her privacy. Yun Zi is very spoiled where he is right now, off exhibit, and spends a lot of time close to his keepers. So please be patient with us keepers, as we only do what is best for all of our animals to keep them happy.

Jen Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, What is Yun Zi Doing?


Yun Zi Surpasses Dad

Yun Zi explores December's snow.

I know many of our San Diego Zoo guests have missed seeing our youngest panda, Yun Zi. Rest assured that he is doing just fine and is still here at the Zoo! Yun Zi has access to our north exhibit during the day, and in the evenings he goes into a set of bedrooms that have sunrooms in case he feels the need to get some fresh air.

Believe it or not, the bears really don’t mind being off exhibit and in the back with keepers. Yun Zi enjoys watching the keepers work, make enrichment, and prep diets for the pandas. He definitely takes after his father, Gao Gao, in the respect: Gao Gao also enjoys the quiet environment, so being in the back with keepers is a nice change for him.

Yun Zi is growing very fast and has officially surpassed his father’s weight. On average, he is anywhere from 4 to 6 pounds (2 to 3 kilograms) larger than his dad, putting him around 174 to 176 pounds (78.9 to 79.8 kilograms). Our little Yun Zi is growing so fast and is becoming a very impressive-looking bear. Through different phases of his development he has taken after his siblings, and for right now he has long legs like his sister Zhen Zhen.

Keepers are training him to perform different behaviors, and for the most part he is eager to learn. Currently he has been working on extending his arm out for blood draws, which will help keepers and vets maintain his good health. There is no official word on moving him into the front viewing area or opening the north exhibit at this time, but check the blogs periodically for updates!

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Pregnancy?


Bai Yun Scent Marks

Bai Yun explores her exhibit during December's snow day.

Panda Trek at the San Diego Zoo was full of excitement on Friday, February 17! Bai Yun was scent marking quite a bit that afternoon. She left markings along the ground at least a few times and also walked through the water in her pool. For the rest of the day she mostly ate and, of course, slept. At one point she dragged a very large piece of bamboo to the top of her rock cave. She then sat down and began to break the thick stalk of bamboo, impressing all of the observing guests.

Gao Gao was also on exhibit that day. After the keeper had replenished his food and cleaned his exhibit, he went on a “hunt” for his herbivore biscuits as well as the yams, carrots, and apples.  He seemed to climb under and even on top of his hammock to find his tasty treats. I also observed him climbing to the very top of the mock panda den to sit and have lunch, just as I’ve seen little Yun Zi do. Like father, like son!

Finally, once the sun started to go down and the Zoo was closing, both Bai Yun and Gao Gao went inside their bedrooms for a nice nap, which is always a great ending to a great day at Panda Trek.

Alyssa Medeiros is a panda narrator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Enrichment.