Exploring San Diego


San Diego and giant pandas: A match made more than 30 years ago

Posted at 12:29 PM, Mar 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-26 15:40:22-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — San Diego's love for giant pandas has been a 30-year commitment.

Since 1987, when the zoo hosted two pandas (Basi and Yuan Yuan) for 200 days, San Diego has been enthralled with the giant black-and-white bears.

What would eventually follow would be a 12-year partnership with China's Wolong Panda Preserve to support research and conservation of the animal — and a local appetite as big as a panda's to see the animal up close.

RELATED: San Diego Zoo to send pandas Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu to China

The zoo's first two pandas, Bai Yun and Shi Shi, arrived in 1996. A new exhibit to showcase the pandas was constructed and their popularity among San Diegans — and visitors from around the world — took off.

Bai Yun would go on to mother six more pandas:

  • Hua Mei, the San Diego Zoo's first panda cub, was born in August 1999. She would be given to Wolong Giant Panda Conservation Center in China, per the conservation agreement, in February 2004.
  • Mei Sheng, born in August 2003
  • Su Lin, born in August 2005
  • Zhen Zhen, born in August 2007 (returned to China with Su Lin in August 2010)
  • Yun Zi, born in August 2009 (left to China in January 2014)
  • Xiao Liwu, born in July 2012

The zoo also welcomed another panda, Gao Gao, in 2003, who successfully mated with Bai Yun, leading to Mei Sheng's birth. Gao Gao then returned to China in October 2018.

Through this partnership, the zoo and Chinese counterparts have led to a wealth of research on panda behavior habit, pregnancy, birth, and maternal and geriatric care.

RELATED: In 2016, giant panda taken off endangered species list

The massive effort to conserve the bear came just as the species was on the verge of extinction, making the San Diego Zoo an important part in preventing such an event.

“Thanks to the work we’ve done, we have met the initial conservation goals we set more than 25 years ago,” Carmi Penny, director of Collections Husbandry Science at the San Diego Zoo, said after the announcement of pandas returning to China. “Now, we must look to the future with a new set of objectives—and, along with our collaborators in China, we want to build on our current conservation successes while attaining a deeper understanding of the panda.”