If I can't have Orcas then it will have to be Pandas...
My daughter had a four day weekend, so we jumped on the opportunity for some R&R and went to San Diego to meet up with a friend and ended up at the San Diego Zoo. The weather was beautiful. Friday was a bit cloudy with bright, blue skies to accompany the clouds. The temperature was warm, being neither too hot nor too cold. Saturday was another beautiful day with blue skies, though a bit cooler, with a slight wind from the Santa Anas.
It had been a good year or two, since we had been to the San Diego Zoo. There were a few changes going on there which left only part of the zoo accessible, but we still had a great time and got to enjoy the animals that we did get to see.
We saw a handful of animals, but the favorite of the trip were the Giant Pandas. Go figure, black and white. :)
Giant Pandas are mammals and are classified in the bear family native to China. Thankfully, China has allowed the San Diego Zoo to be a part of their research breeding project and in turn have loaned them a few Giant Pandas. We were able to see three of them: SuLin, BaiYun, and Zhen Zhen.
SuLin is the first Panda you see when entering the Panda exhibit. She is 3 years old, approximately 175 lbs, and was born at the zoo on August 2, 2005. She is the third cub born to her mother, BaiYun, and the second-born to her sire, Gao Gao. She was conceived via natural mating and is now old enough to be independent. Since she is now 3 years old, she is awaiting her time to return to China.
The next two Pandas on exhibit are BaiYun and her fourth child Zhen Zhen. BaiYun was the first successful birth of Giant Pandas at the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center in China. She is 17 years old and weighs approximately 214 lbs. She is on loan from China as part of the breeding research program at the zoo.
Zhen Zhen was born on August 3, 2007 from the natural mating of BaiYun and Gao Gao at the San Diego Zoo. She is still very young at 14 months old and still needs her mother. When she turns 18 months old, she will be separated from her mother to start her life on her own.
BaiYun's only son, Mei Sheng, was born in 2003 at the zoo and is doing very well since being returned to China in October of 2007. Mei Sheng's father was also Gao Gao and was also conceived via natural mating.
Gao Gao is a wild-born animal and arrived from China in January of 2003 to be a part of the breeding program at the zoo. He only has two successful offspring both via natural mating: Mei Sheng and SuLin.
The first giant panda born in the United States to survive adulthood was Hua Mei. She was conceived via artificial insemination between Shi Shi and BaiYun and was born at the zoo in 1999. Hua Mei was returned to China in 2004.
Now a bit more about the Giant Pandas...
When Giant Pandas are born after a gestation period of 95 to 160 days, they only weigh about 4 oz and can barely fit into the palm of your hand. They are born blind, fur less, and are mostly white with a pinkish tint. The cub nurses from its mother's breast 6 to 14 times a day for up to 30 minutes at a time. When they are about 7-14 days old, the black saddle and ear patches begin to emerge and darken. They will start to take on the appearance of a more typical panda only much smaller. The hair on the cub is still sparse and predominantly white. A month after birth, the color pattern of the cub's fur is fully developed. The cub begins to crawl at 75 to 90 days and mothers play with their cubs by rolling and wrestling with them. Cubs can eat small quantities of bamboo after six months, though mother's milk remains the primary food source for most of the first year.
There is approx 25 species of bamboo, but the zoo only produces 2 types.
The average adult Giant Panda eats as much as 20-30 lbs of bamboo shoots a day. When the Pandas eat, they do so in a very relaxed manner.
Giant Pandas are very solitary and live alone except during the few days when mating occurs. Adult pandas sleep about 14 hours a day and spend the rest of their time mostly eating, while cubs sleep about 18 hours per day. Male Giant Pandas are 10-20% larger than females.
At the San Diego Zoo, the adult pandas, which are solitaire, are rotated every two weeks to be out on exhibit. The Pandas are very sensitive to unfamiliar noise and direct sunlight.
Of the eight living species of bears, the Giant Panda is the only one currently classified as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. In fact, there are less than 1,000 Giant Pandas left in the world today.